Lou Reed, Metallica clash on new collaboration

Eli Watson

2011 has been a strange year for musical collaborations: Raconteurs and ex-White Stripes frontman Jack White was scrutinized for working with hip-hop’s outcasted duo Insane Clown Posse, and now heads are being turned by a new project between Lou Reed and Metallica, known as Lulu.

Inspired by German expressionist Frank Wedekind’s early 20th-century plays “Earth Spirit” and “Pandora’s Box,” Lulu strives to be a work of art but crashes and burns immediately. Reed’s preacher-like vocal delivery on opener “Bradenburg Gate” unites effortlessly with the open and airy acoustic guitars in the beginning, but it’s overshadowed and overpowered by Metallica’s unrelenting guitars.

This problem foreshadows the album’s failure to captivate: The two artists do not complement each other well, resulting in fractured pieces of songs that only satisfy when one or the other is playing. In its entirety, this album is mediocre: It becomes a challenge to listen to, and the only amusement you will get is through Reed’s humorously dark lyrical content (listen to “Iced Honey” and try not to laugh).

Lulu could be better, but the partnership between Reed and Metallica have many noticeable holes. Metallica frontman James Hetfield is no Nico, and his gutteral vocals clash against Reed’s monotonous, spoken-word delivery. When the two do have simultaneous vocal parts occurring, they are interspersed in such a way that the song becomes cluttered and overwhelming. “Cheat On Me” starts off as listenable, but toward the end, it grows into an uncontrollable ball of sound.
Lou Reed and Metallica are not a perfect pair. Yes, Lou Reed has always been known as a risk-taking, fearless musician, but there is a difference between fearlessness and foolishness. Present-day Reed is nothing like his Velvet Underground counterpart. This Reed sacrifices evocative narratives for incomprehensible babble, sometimes so overwhelming that you can’t help but wonder what he was thinking as he recorded his vocals.

Metallica follows suit. Their definitive, rough-edged metal sound that catapulted them into the mainstream has since dwindled and become something of its former self. Rather than stylistically following their last release, Death Magnetic, the band makes the mistake of treading too deep into their St. Anger-era sound. This hurts the album more than helps and diehard fans who are expecting grandeur-laden guitar solos will be greatly disappointed.

Lulu could have been an interesting album, but the lack of cohesion between Reed and Metallica is a problem that is obvious from beginning to end.

Printed on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 as: Metal, avant-garde experiment crashes