Right now collaborations in music are hotter than Four Lokos. Kanye West and Jay-Z released the soul-shattering “Watch the Throne” earlier this year and Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett did that freaky cover of “The Lady is a Tramp.” So what did Lou Reed and Metallica decide to do? Create Lulu, arguably the oddest, most abrasive album of the year.
“Lulu,” released worldwide on Oct. 31, is supposed to be a concept album. Based on two plays originally written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, the album tells the story of a prostitute named Lulu. Reed sings from her perspective, singing off-putting lyrics such as “I would cut my legs and tits off/ When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski/ In the dark of the moon.” It’s as if Reed’s deliberately pushing the listener’s buttons, seeing how much of this surreal world can be swallowed.
In theory, this partnership could be have been good, even great. Metallica and Lou Reed first performed in 2009 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert. After a decent performance, they decided to join forces and work on what they probably thought was their magnum opus. Reed’s half-spoken lyrics over heavy guitar swell seems like it could be cool. Too bad it fell through.
First of all, Metallica’s grating guitars are overwhelming when juxtaposed with Reed’s vocals. It can be a little much when someone’s half-shouting, “I puke my guts out at your feet/ You’re more man than I/ To be dead to have no feeling/ To be dry and spermless like a girl,” over wailing guitars and heavy beats. Reed is so intense at times, he needs something smoother and more melodic in the background to soften the delivery, such as an acoustic drone.
Still, perhaps the strongest aspect of the album is Reed’s voice, which is more worn than a vintage baseball glove. He sounds like Johnny Cash on a later album such as American IV: The Man Comes Around; a crumbling crooner filled with pain. It’s this pain that draws people in, the torment of a man standing on the edge of a roof or drinking a fifth of cheap vodka alone. There’s something oddly seductive about listening to a weathered voice that’s experienced so much in one lifetime; Reed did enough heroin in his day to kill most people, after all. And Reed alone is what saves Lulu from being a complete failure.
It’s unclear who this album is written for: the nicotine-addicted art student who bumps jams while riding their fixed-gear bicycle, the silent gamer adolescent with metal posters on his wall, or the 70-year-old cross-dresser who only listens to albums on vinyl.
And maybe that’s this album’s problem: it’s such a forced combination of conceptual lyrics, Reed’s sandpaper vocals and Metallica’s overbearing instrumentation. While in theory there’s something for everyone on the album, it’s such a confusing cluster of chaotic sound that, at the end of the day, everyone is left speechless.
Hopefully Metallica and Reed will keep the collaborations to a minimum after this one. Lulu was enough torture to last a long time.