"'Lulu' wasn't accepted as much as we accepted it," he stated. "I'm really proud that we did it. It was fun, it was an adventure."
"Fun" and "adventure" aren't the terms I'd use to describe the album. "Impenetrable" was actually the word that came to mind. Playing "Lulu" for the first time was an abrasive, difficult listening experience. In spite of being a huge Metallica fan, as well as an appreciator of Lou Reed, I could never bring myself to give it a second spin.
But spurred on by Papa Het's heartfelt appreciation for the record, I decided to go back into the abyss. Metallica's most controversial record (that isn't "St. Anger") is back in the CD changer. May the gods have mercy...
77 Minutes Later...
Well, that was an experience. Not an entirely pleasant one, but I got through it. And while I still can't say that I like "Lulu," I have a greater appreciation for it this time around. I'll come onto that in a minute. But first, there is one negative I have to flag up.
Lou Reed and Metallica as Collaborators Just Doesn't Work...
I'm not the first person to have said this, but it bears repeating here. "Lulu" is not the sound of two acts collaborating. It's the sound of Lou Reed doing his thing in one corner and Metallica doing their thing in another. Here are two acts that have fundamentally different approaches to making music - Lou Reed the discordant, experimental art-rocker-cum-poet, Metallica the masters of precision-based thrash riffery - approaches in which it is difficult to find a workable middle-ground.
Metallica might be the most famous heavy metal band in the world, but that doesn't mean they're the right band to back Lou Reed. That's often very clear throughout "Lulu's" near hour-and-a-half running time. While there are some moments where they manage to find a mostly-digestible middle ground - "Junior Dad," "Iced Honey" and, in spite of its preoccupations with furniture embodiment, "The View" - the fundamental disconnect between the two factions stops "Lulu" from ever becoming a truly enjoyable listening experience.
Not Enjoyable, but Interesting Nonetheless...
But then, the more I think about it, I'm not sure that "Lulu" is meant to be an enjoyable album. Not in the sense that Metallica's "Black Album" or Reed's "Transformer" are anyway. The subject matter of this record (based on the "Lulu" plays by Frank Wedekind, it tells the story of a sexually-enticing German dancer who falls into poverty and prostitution) doesn't exactly lend itself to anthemic heavy metal or hip, streetwise New York rock.
What I can say for "Lulu" is that, while often abrasive, and at points genuinely unpleasant to listen to, it is never boring. Certain aspects of the record are oddly compelling, if not entertaining, thought provoking if not entirely satisfying. You could never call it a great album, but it isn't without merit, and I'm glad that the parties involved tried to give it a go.
And You've Got to Give Them Props for Putting Their Collective Balls on the Line...
You've got to hand it to Metallica and Lou Reed for a) having the balls to experiment and b) having the balls to share the results of that experiment with the general public. Those are risks that most artists of their respective pedigrees would never take.
When bands get to a certain age - usually 50 and over - it's easy for them to rest on their laurels. Accepting that their days as innovators as over, you see a lot of heritage acts who are more than happy to tour their greatest hits, put-out cookie-cutter copies of their most celebrated albums and reap the financial rewards.
Admittedly, Lou Reed was never one of those people. Too artsy, too confrontational, he avoided the hits and toyed with his audiences until the last. For Metallica though, who have spent the better part of the last 20 years as a stadium-filling, crowd-pleasing heavy metal juggernaut, this was truly a step into the unknown. It was an experiment undertaken, not with commercial imperatives in mind (clearly, given that the album has sold sod-all copies since its release in 2011), but with the extent of expanding both bands' musical horizons. Art for art's sake is a rare thing these days, and I think you've got to give props to Lou and the 'Tallica boys for striving for it.
I'm not sure that "Lulu" could ever have really worked, but the only way to find that out was to get in the room and record it. While the album will never be on regular rotation in my CD changer, a third listen someday might not be off-the-cards as I first thought.
A great record? Certainly not. But an interesting one? Most definitely. I have a new found respect for Metallica and Lou Reed for making it happen.
By Alec Plowman