Lulu, the new collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, opens with a sparsely strummed acoustic guitar, Reed’s distinct voice, and a question: Will this misaligned collaboration surprise with unexpected merit? Once James Hetfield enters with his amplified chin-rock croon over a wall of guitars turned up to eleven and Reed sings the charming lyric “I would cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff,” you have your answer. No. No it cannot.
This album is exactly what you’d expect from the head-on collision between a rusty metal machine and an art-rock poet elder, each seeking relevance in all the wrong places. It’s not really a collaboration in the truest sense of the word — playing Lou Reed’s Transformer at the same time as Metallica’s Ride the Lightning would likely yield a more cohesive result. There is very little meeting in the middle from either side, only repetitive riffs, scratchy screamed brocals, and dark monotone poetry.
On the song “Iced Honey,” Metallica strays away from their standard assault-you-with-riffs approach to play some music that comfortably holds Reed’s voice, and the attempt comes surprisingly close to working. But Reed’s vocals don’t lend themselves well to aggressive metal, and when he attempts to mold his delivery it sounds a little embarrassing. Reed’s voice juxtaposed with Hetfield’s makes the latter’s sound like a caricature of itself, the kind of affectation a jazz musician would employ to make fun of the “yeah” in Collective Soul’s “Shine.”
When Lulu‘s deluge of pounding guitar lets up enough for the vocals to be heard, the lyrics are left to awkwardly tread water in a pool of high school gothic imagery. They also get horribly dark, like this line in “Pumping Blood:” “I will swallow your sharpest cutter / Like a colored man’s dick / Blood spurting from me.” I could have contently gone on breathing never having absorbed nor envisioned said imagery, and it doesn’t nearly end there.
This is an art project, perhaps a modern art project, like when someone smears ferret shit on a wall and puts a bird on it, as well as a high price tag. Even after a few listens, no song presents itself as “radio friendly”. In fact, the last five songs clock in at just shy of an hour (an hour of my life I would love to have back.)
There are moments when Reed stumbles across an intriguing lyric, or when I’d catch my neck nodding to a sinister barrage of guitars, or even washes of string-anchored ambiance which call to mind Vic Chesnutt’s collaboration with Thee Silver Mt. Zion, but those moments are fleeting and always abruptly conquered by an untimely scream or a twisted horror poem. If Lulu is all just an inside joke, it’s hilarious. But if not, it’s one of the oddest choices of collaboration in memory, recent or otherwise, and quite a misfire.
Though if Leonard Cohen and Mastodon put out a release, I will be all ears.