1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear #100: Metallica with Lou Reed – Lulu

1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear

#100: Metallica with Lou Reed – Lulu (2011)

MATT KELLY somehow manages to listen to 90 minutes of possibly the worst collaborative album by major rock figures ever made.

When I think of a listening experience with the right mix of being terrible and amazing enough to snag the first centennial spot on this list, it’s hard to go past one whose opening lines are:

“I would cut my legs and tits off
When I think of Boris Karloff”

This is a bad album dream team as many critics regard Metallica’s St Anger as one of the worst metal albums ever made, while Lou Reed not only made one of the foundational texts of the awful music scene with 1975’s Metal Machine Music, but also 1986’s Mistrial which may be even worse.

And so Metallica and Lou Reed have combined their powers to make a 90-minute juggernaut of jaw-droppingly confusing and unlistenable “music”. There are TWO 11-minute songs here and one that goes to 19.

Those who for some reason don’t want to devote an hour and a half to torturing themselves are advised to experience ‘Pumping Blood’ for a relatively succinct summary of what is going on here. ‘Pumping Blood’ sees Metallica thumping their instruments for seven minutes while Lou Reed, 69 and sounding 89, tunelessly rants away in a Grandpa Simpson voice, resulting in a try-not-to-laugh challenge that I haven’t passed yet. Other highly amusing moments include James Hetfield’s passionate cries of “I AM THE TABLE” on ‘The View’ where you can also entertain yourself by wondering whether Lars thinks he could add more cymbal to the track while Lou mumbles on about wanting to see your suicide.

‘Brandenburg Gate’ continues the “homeless man interrupting rehearsal” vibe, though ‘Mistress Dread’ is more gruelling – the thrash metal backing is actually pretty cool, Ulrich playing with an energy we haven’t seen in years, but Reed droning over it in a desiccated voice for another seven minutes about bondage, coprophilia and fisting makes for a real endurance test. Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe that the 10-minute plus ‘Cheat On Me’ was written or rehearsed at all – on and on it drones, the band playing a dull, basic rock beat while Reed says the title over and over. At times it’s like the band did some jam sessions to generate ideas, and then released them as the final product.


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I can see the case for Lulu being an Admirable Failure. Both artists are stepping outside their comfort zone, this doesn’t sound like much else, and it’s spontaneous and fearless. There’s an attempt to say something profound about sexuality, gender and power in the album’s narrative based on Frank Wedekind’s 1895 play Erdgeist, but I can sense your eyes glazing over already – getting audiences to care about this esoteric concept requires a clarity of focus and vision that this haphazard mess doesn’t even vaguely approach.

It’s like someone took all the ingredients for a fine French meal, ran them through a blender and dumped them down the back of your shirt. I can also understand Reed devotees having a different relationship with this album. Not only will they be more used to his vocal style and tendency to “go there” when it comes to sex and provocation (“I’ll swallow your sharpest cutter like a coloured man’s dick” and singing of wanting to be “dry and spermless like a girl” are among the many choice lines here) and Lulu is also Reed’s final work before his 2013 death.

It could be viewed as one more uncompromising surprise from an artist who was always ahead of the curve, or as a final trollish middle finger to the music industry. And I will say 19 minute final song ‘Junior Dad’ is actually kind of good. For once Reed and Metallica are on the same page as the band lays down a gently sad piece of relaxed rock while Reed muses quietly on the bittersweet realization he has turned into his own father, culminating in a surprisingly moving 9-minute orchestral drone. Yet for all but the most dedicated souls, wading through the 70 minutes of nonsense on the way to ‘Junior Dad’ isn’t going to be worth it.

But the biggest letdown about Lulu is that Dave Mustaine still hasn’t tried to one-up Metallica by recording a Megadeth album with William Shatner. Make it happen, Dave.

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Matthew Kelly is the most important person in the music industry – the type of obsessive nerd without whom it would have no reason to produce box sets and nine-hour long documentaries.

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