By Bill Adams
Sometimes there’s just no way to explain how a musical collaboration between two artists could have happened because, like oil and water, they just don’t seem capable of mixing. In the case of oil and water, a mixture is impossible because, on the most basic molecular level, the liquids are incapable of combining into a solution; the best that can happen is that they haphazardly come together as a suspension like salad dressing, but the liquids will still separate if left to stagnate for too long. It may sound funny or obtuse, but this metaphor also applies perfectly to Lulu, the collaborative album released by Lou Reed and Metallica – for eighty-seven minutes, these two monsters or rock try to mix as they churn out ten tracks based on the work of German playwright Frank Wedekind but, after the run-time ends, everyone knows there’s no chance that the group won’t separate again into its component elements.
Almost right from the start of “Bradenburg Bridge,” listeners will be able to mark just exactly how shaky this artistic union is going to be. Per usual, Reed appears stoically with acoustic guitar in hand and sets a wooden, dry-eyed mood with the characteristically blunt-force lyrics, “I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinsky in the dark of the moon.” As rough as they sound, there’s something a little comforting in that, because this is the sort of fare that Reed has been doing for decades; he hasn’t changed here. At the same time though, the anticipation of Metallica making its entrance looms, and even Reed seems to feel it, as evidenced in the ever-so-slight quiver and clip in his vocal phrasing. That’s fine and good and builds the dramatic tension as it should, but when the bubble does burst (at around the forty-nine-second mark), Metallica’s molten guitar lines simply flow out over and consume the modest amount of ambiance which has already been built, and just scorches the earth, anticlimactically. Why didn’t it work better? Some could say that the song’s arrangement was mishandled, but the truth is that this beginning is exactly what listeners should have expected from these two particular artists; they’re both too proud to bend.
The sense that both Lou Reed and Metallica are too proud and too set in their ways to give each other a little leeway in this collaboration ends up being Lulu’s defining trait. Each step of the way through this run-time, Reed plays the stoic artist of words and music has has always been, while Metallica simply grinds out repetitive riffs and rhythm figures as they have always done, each with little or no regard for what the other may be doing at the same time (to the point that one almost has to wonder if the two halves of the record were made at the same time in the same place or if Lulu was actually made separately and then slapped together in post-production). Sometimes the gamble pays off and the duo arrives at a passably interesting “song” (the best examples of the pieces falling together are “Iced Honey,” about half of the nineteen-minute monster “Junior Dad” and “Mistress Dead”), but not everything lines up flush far more frequently, and the longer a song runs (see “Junior Dad,” “Cheat On Me” and “Dragon,” which all run in excess of ten minutes), the more gaffes the group seems to find, and the more awkward the dynamics of this collaboration seem to get – particularly when James Hetfield tries to chip in a couple of vocals, which ruins Reed’s rhythm and seems to cause him to trip.
By the end when the subdued “Junior Dad” hits and then continues beyond the fifteen-minute mark, it’s likely that even the most devout fans of both Metallica and Lou Reed will be hoping that this record would just end, finally. That’s understandable; to be fair, there are a few good moments here, but they could really have been condensed down into an EP’s worth of “good” material, with the rest left on the cutting room floor. Other than a couple of songs, Lulu makes as much as it can out of the novelty that “Lou Reed’s playing with Metallica!” but that novelty fades pretty quickly when listeners learn what that means in practice.
(Warner Music Canada)
Bill Adams is also editor in chief of groundcontrolmag.com