Loutallica’s LuLu: The MetalSucks Reviews
Thanks to HunterMC for the LULZy pic.
Three years ago we
celebrated acknowledged the release of Metallica’s Death Magnetic by re-christening MetalSucks as “MetallicaSucks” for the day, and asking the entire MS staff (and some our guest bloggers) to review the album. We did not wanna do that for Lulu, the new collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed, because, well, a) it’s not a proper Metallica album, and b) seriously are you fucking kidding us with this shit?
That being said, we do love to represent multiple points of view here at MetalSucks, and we wanted to make sure that every one of our writers had a fair shot at expressing his or her thoughts on Lulu. And so, after the jump, read reviews by the seven sad bastards who all volunteered for the assignment. At the very least, you should enjoy these musings more than you did Lulu itself…
Last week, the great Chuck Klosterman published his review of Lulu, and in that review, he did something he does very well: he speculated on the artists’ intent, despite the fact that he has no possible way of knowing said artists’ intent. And, furthermore, he presented that speculation as though it were inarguable truth, which, again, it most certainly is not. (There are five people in the world who know what the musicians involved intended to achieve with Lulu. None of those individuals write record reviews for a living.) And Klosterman’s very entertaining column seems to have single-handedly changed the critical perception of this record. Suddenly, Lulu isn’t just a terrible album — it’s an “interesting,” and perhaps even noble, terrible album.
Except that it isn’t, unless you think that being inadvertently hilarious and being interesting are one and the same. (Which I guess could be true from a certain perspective. The problem with the word “interesting” is that it’s incredibly vague. And in this instance, I don’t think anyone means “interesting” to be synonymous with “schadenfreude-rrific.”)
‘Cause the bottom line is this: if Lulu had been made by five dudes who weren’t already famous, no one would give two fucks about it. A reader would send us a YouTube rip of one of the songs, and we’d publish it and laugh at it, and so would everyone in the comments section, and then we would all forget about it — at least until one of the band members sent us a furious e-mail, at which point we’d remember it for the amount of time it took to read that e-mail, and then we’d forget about it again. Okay, so Lulu isn’t meant to be mainstream, and every now and then, Metallica seem to briefly stumble upon a not-unlistenable riff. Guess what? There’s as much pretentious awful modern experimental art as there is mainstream trite, and it’s Metallica’s job to write not-unlistenable riffs. Patting them on back for doing that which they are supposed to do anyway is, frankly, a waste of the energy it took you to raise your arm and make that patting motion.
What a lot of people don’t seem to get is that former Metallica fans who now hate the band don’t feel all this vitriol because the band’s sound has evolved — we feel all this vitriol because the band’s sound has evolved into something incredibly not-good. I have no idea what Loutallica’s intentions were when they recorded Lulu, but I know the final product isn’t worth the space it’s currently occupying on my hard drive.
(fuck you out of five horns)
Reviled on its very announcement, the record was an improbable, almost offensive collaboration between artists from what may as well have been entirely different planets. As the weeks passed, music critics foamed at the mouth, sharpening their knives in perverse anticipation. They were not alone in their hardly hidden bloodlust, as fans of the respective musicians expressed some potent combination of bewilderment, distaste, and anger. When the first opportunity arose to actually listen to this abomination, all were quick to see their gut-level prophecies self-fulfilled. The record never even stood a chance in their eyes; it was doomed from the start, the unlikely creative union almost assuredly terminated.
When word got around that rocker Chris Cornell was working on a third solo album, this time with world-famous hip-hop producer Timbaland at the helm, the scenario occurred as described above. None of the advance singles hit, the label adjusted the release date repeatedly, and by the time it hit stores in March of 2009, Scream‘s Top 10 Billboard showing didn’t account for much. Cornell never achieved his Robert Plant Now and Zen moment and, after touring the material reworked with a rock band, announced a long-awaited Soundgarden reunion via Twitter that New Year’s Eve. The ever-prolific Timbaland, with several pop hits under his own belt already, moved on as if nothing happened, his legacy relatively untainted.
As we’ve seen a similar leadup to the release of Lulu — “I am the table,” anyone? –I predict a similar post-release outcome. Metallica, corporate overlords of heavy metal, will still play sold-out stadiums and arenas all over the world, and make more albums for metalheads to argue about. Lou Reed, with more than his fair share of venerated classics, will continue not to give a fuck what anyone thinks of him, his obituary already written. Lulu is so inconsequential that this site, which devoted an entire day to Death Magnetic, doesn’t see fit to grant this one similar coverage.
So why should I even bother to review it, other than to satisfy that aforementioned bloodlust with paragraphs of hot venom or instead to praise it excessively and play the Andy Kaufman role once again? Lulu isn’t even close to Reed’s most experimental (1975’s noncommercial kiss-off classic Metal Machine Music) or even his most obnoxious offerings (2007’s pretentious and dreadful Hudson River Wind Meditations). It’s downright conventional when compared to once-controversial, retroactively hailed Berlin, and no more or less intolerable than The Raven, his loose collaborative tribute to Edgar Allan Poe. Metallica’s fans, in turn, are an utterly unpleasable lot who, in mushmouthed unison, make contradictory demands for stability, change, rejuvenation, and a “return to form” — oh, that old chestnut. Lars, Kirk, James, and Robert don’t know what those people want, and, given that even when they do “wrong” metalheads find some way of rewarding them, the guys have little reason to care. One thing is certain: neither party will return for a follow-up.
(3 out of 5 horns)
I feel a little bad ripping on Lulu. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a total failure of an album, and is positively sadistic at its 87-minute length. But while it’s a failure, it’s an interesting failure, and “interesting” isn’t a word one could use to describe Metallica after 1988 (unless you’re saying “It’s interesting that Metallica thinks they’re still making relevant music”). The band are admittedly working far too outside their comfort zone here, but that’s because they’re actually taking artistic risks and chancing a laughable faceplant at the expense of doing something they want to do. Lulu is neither a hilarious train wreck (just a confusing one) nor a triumph. But I would rather hear four or five more Metallica albums like this before they finally pack it in than another Load, Reload, St. Anger, or what half of Death Magnetic was. The question is, what’s more admirable and daring: making almost an hour and a half’s worth of repetitive, muddled-but-unusual drek because you’ve made more than enough money and can afford to do what you want, or slapping an orchestra on your back catalog and moaning through your greatest hits? I’d emphatically argue the former.
But once again, Lulu’s ambition doesn’t make it good. Or passable. It basically fails as music, both popular and avant-garde. Lou Reed and Metallica are a nonsensical combination, and in a bad, bad way. Lou’s songwriting, drawing from both folk and Eastern music, focuses on milking as much from the same material as possible, putting more emphasis on ambiance and vocals and lyrics instead of adhering to contemporary pop music structure. This is bad for Metallica, in that they haven’t written a riff that’s been worth hearing for more than sixteen bars in twenty years. The greatest casualty of that is that Metallica occasionally bring it on Lulu: “Frustration” features a pretty killer stoner-doom groove and “Mistress Dread” is built on a riff that sounds like the cousin of “Disposable Heroes.” But the thing is, nothing changes. At best, it’s interesting for three minutes, then just keeps going. At worst, it’s a bad riff that doesn’t let up for almost ten minutes. This won’t do in a collaboration with Lou Reed, so Lulu doesn’t work on even the most fundamental of levels.
Reed’s vocal performance is amazing, though. The frustrating part is that his voice and words wouldn’t sound bad on a metal album; Metallica just aren’t the band to be backing him in this sort of excursion. And it makes it apparent that this was sought after for the most hipster-y of reasons: he wanted to make a metal album, because metal fascinates him, but he doesn’t actually like it, so he just got the biggest metal band there is and went from there. Lou Reed and Yob, Lou Reed and the Melvins, Lou Reed and fucking Sunn 0)))… all of these could have been phenomenal, genre-defying collaborations, because they’re bands that specialize in bending a riff or motif until it’s at its breaking point. But instead, he went with Metallica, who presumably dumped a bunch of half-finished song ideas onto Lulu and had Reed rant over them. But that being said, I admire Metallica for this greatly, in that the people who are going to be most pissed off are the band’s most thick-necked, bro-sympathetic, double-digit IQ fan base, and those simplistic motherfuckers are who Metallica have been pandering to for the last fifteen years. While Lulu is helplessly pretentious and not worth the staggering amount of time it takes to listen to it, it’s also the first time the band have attempted to build mood or ambiance since Master of Puppets or …And Justice for All. That’s not enough to make Lulu listenable, but still somewhat of a victory. A purely hypothetical victory, but a victory nonetheless.
(1 out of 5 horns)
There’s no point in asking the question “Is Lulu good?” You knew the answer would be “no” before Lulu existed. As much as we always hope that the next Metallica album will reclaim some of the greatness of their first five, the last 20 years have taught us to stop caring — inevitably, we will be let down. Even those of us that saw glimmers of a rebound in Death Magnetic (I was one of them) knew that Lulu wasn’t going to be the project to awaken the beast; the more cynical among us (I was one of them) saw it as some bizarre bid for legacy-enhancement from two artists who have little but legacy to go on these days.
Lulu is indeed terrible, often laughable, and largely unlistenable. But it’s a fascinating kind of unlistenable, because it stems from Reed and Metallica’s failure at listening to each other. After listening to Lulu once a day over the past week, I’m convinced that few bands have misunderstood each other so thoroughly as Lou Reed and Metallica seem to on Lulu. On the album’s 13-minute EPK, Lars Ulrich describes Reed as “a solo version of Metallica.” As aesthetic spirits, the two entities couldn’t be more different – Reed’s best work is loose, artful, cerebral; Metallica do better with rigid rhythmic structures and simple lyrical concepts (e.g. breaches of justice, the horrors of war or the hitting of the lights). These two opposites meld in the least exciting ways imaginable on Lulu; neither party has the flexibility to accommodate the other.
A lyric like “If I pump blood in the sunshine / And you wear a leather box with azaleas / And I pump more blood / And it seeps through my skin / Will you adore the river?” might have been perfect for the expressionist theater piece Reed had originally planned for this material. And the groovy opening riff to “Pumping Blood” is a winner, too. But when the former is muttered all forgetful granddad-style over the latter, it sounds like a flaccid penis flopping around in a wind tunnel, and both the poetry of the former and the power of the latter are diminished. This is that rare collaboration that actually sounds like less than the sum of its parts.
There are some beautiful moments on Lulu that, in isolation, show what could have been. I’m moved by Reed’s broken voice on “Little Dog,” and the simpatico acoustic guitar that sends dustclouds stirring up behind him. And for all of its deserved ridicule, at least “The View” gets angry and weird at the same time (James seems authentically proud about being that table). These moments come infrequently though, far too seldom for an 87-minute album.
So we’re left pondering why these guys wanted to release an album destined for commercial and critical failure that contributes nothing positive to either artists’ canons. The one wholly positive thing you can say about Lulu is that Reed and Metallica had no incentive to make this record, and they made it anyway. A sure sign of the purity of their vision, right? But it’s hard to describe the album as “uncompromising,” or hear this union as “effortless,” as the press materials do. Lulu could have used more compromise, more effort.
(1 1/2 out of 5 horns up)
I can’t stop laughing. Can that just be my review? I cannot physically stop laughing while this album is on. How bad is it, truly? You know when Rockstar with Mark Wahlberg came out, and it was just so terrible that the makers tried to pass it off as a comedy rather than the sincere story it was? I wouldn’t be surprised if Lulu got that sort of revisionist do-over once the boys realize just how vehemently everyone hates this record.
Now, I enjoy listening to old Metallica. I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan, but I like a fair bit of their (past) work, and fully appreciate them for their place in metal history. Unlike quite a few others, though, I don’t await their every new release with trepidation, quaking in fear that it’s going to suck. Because it inevitably does suck, and I just don’t care. I was really curious about Lulu, though. Lou Reed is a completely different entity. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his solo stuff, and, of course, The Velvet Underground is de rigueur listening material for the average college kid, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around Lou Reed + Metallica. How could that possibly be good? It wasn’t.
“Brandenburg Gate” starts of the album with its acoustic intro and is a pretty good representation of the rest of the songs. It features Lou Reed’s signature half spoken-word, half-sung lyrical poetry with some half-hearted riffs that aspire to be thrash but are just plodding, uninspired masterpieces of blah. James can’t be kept quiet, though, so he comes in with his repetitive refrain of “small-town girl,” and it isn’t so much as a duet as two completely different styles mashed together. At least they’re diligent; this is the common factor in all the songs. Lou sings and meanders and tries to fit too many words in, while Metallica try desperately to find some sort of backing that sounds like an “artsy” version of themselves, and it’s just such a mess. It and every other song sounds like they’re one step away from falling apart completely, and I’m actually surprised Hetfield didn’t resort to just yelling, “small town girl-AH!” just to keep some familiar sense of control.
The sad thing is, Metallica (and, I’m sure, Lou) takes this quite seriously. It’s not like they’re trolling us — oh no — they’re quite pathetically sincere, and it just baffles me how they could sit back and listen to these songs and think, “Yeah this is excellent.” Take “Pumping Blood,” for example. Okay, the backing music isn’t hugely innovative, yes, but still listenable… at least until you add the vocals. It’s like high school kids trying to make metal and slam-poetry work at their local talent show. and everyone’s just suffering through the worst second-hand embarrassment ever. They’re not collaborating, they’re both just in the same room doing their own thing and somehow it all ended up on the same record.
The only song that I half enjoy is “Iced Honey,” because it’s the only one where they actually attempt to match Lou Reed’s style and make it a collaboration, rather than both parties stubbornly trying to hold on to their own sound. Until James comes in again. “Ooo, iced hon-EH!” indeed.
(1 out of 5 horns)
The first thought that came into my mind as I listened to Lulu was, “I hate what’s happening to my ears right now.” But, before I get into the ripping-apart-of said album, I wanna say: I fucking love Lou Reed. And, as do most of us, I count older Metallica releases among some of the most influential in molding my musical tastes to this day.
Now, with that mandatory clearance out of the way…
The only way I can explain what listening to this is like is… you know what, imagine yourself in a nursing home, and some other guest is playing some guitar riffs on their iPod speakers, or ghetto blaster, or whatever for some reason. After hearing this commence, your very sick, very troubled grandfather or uncle, or neighbor, or what-have-you, leaves his room to follow said root-of-noise to yell gibberish at it. Just, strings of words that don’t make sense, with random obscenities sprinkled in here and there, fairly regularly. In a nutshell, that’s Lulu. Alzheimer’s Metal.
I have to take a moment to say that I can almost see what they’re aiming for. I’m an avid Sonic Youth fan, and it’s no secret that they took a great deal of influence from Lou Reed and the like. I’d actually love to get Thurston Moore or Kim Gordon’s take on this release. I’d never put words in the mouths of such icons, but for my own part, I’d say Lulu is the tadpole to Sonic Youth’s Confusion is Sex – a comparison I’d label as “exceptionally generous.”
Simply put: this album is fucking awkward as all get-out. If you want to feel as uncomfortable as possible for nearly an hour and a half, then by all means: go for it! No one’s stopping you from punishing yourself. Actually, while we’re on the subject, have you ever tried water boarding?
(1 out of 5 horns)
Three years ago, I gave you guys my Metallica bona fides and then proceeded to rake the band’s Death Magnetic record over the coals. I gave it one spin and have never listened to it again.
I can now sadly say that there are two Metallica releases I will only listen to once during my lifetime. Say hello, Lulu.
I am all for experimentation. I believe it is healthy for bands to stretch their metaphorical musical wings. Lulu, however, comes across as less of a collaboration of great musical minds and, instead, sounds like five guys who got really fucked up in the recording studio, hit the record switch, and spewed forth intoxicated/stoned/fried crap and then had the temerity to actually release it as a full-length recording intended for public consumption.
This is the type of experimentation that should sit (rot) in a vault, locked away for posterity, only to be hauled out when you want to tell your friends, “Hey, we recorded some fucked up nonsense with Lou Reed. Check it out! It’s horrible, but that’s cool, because we had a blast doing it.”
What is so utterly disappointing (but I am in no way surprised) is that Metallica used to know how to create challenging, fucked-up, heavy experimental music. Well, at least one of their members did.
I gave Death Magnetic 1/2 Horn back in 2008. As a result, the only score left for Lulu is:
(fuck you out of five horns)
Of course, the band has now set themselves up perfectly to confuse people into thinking that their next “real” album will be awesome by comparison. Well played, Metallica! Y’all are giving Iwrestledabearonce a run for their money in the Metal Trolling department.
Corey Mitchell is a best-selling author of several true crime books and is currently helping Philip H. Anselmo write his autobiography. I’m also jamming to Goregast on Spotfiy and no one is even paying me to do so. Shocker! Join Corey at Facebook and Twitter. Oh yeah, circle me at Google+, yet another fucking social network…