Metallica aren’t a band that interested in pleasing everyone. In fact, Metallica aren’t a band that are even interested in pleasing their own fans. The “loyal” fanbase might take to the internet to crucify their heroes but it makes little difference to the Metallica juggernaut. For every fan that burns their latest album there are 1000 fans that have bought tickets to a live show. This is a band that headline festivals like other bands tour clubs. Metallica do what they want. Even if that means collaborating with Lou Reed to produce a concept album based on Lulu – two plays originally written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. You’ve probably heard about it, you might have even heard it. But did you give it a chance?
I remember buying Lulu the week it came out. I was off work and popped into the record store to see what I could acquire. Megadeth’s 13 was sitting in the new releases section alongside Lulu. I’d heard about the Lou Reed collaboration but had heard nothing from it. Not one single note or even a review. Needless to say, I was curious.
Opener ‘Brandenburg Gate’ lets you know right off the bat if this album is for you. A lonely guitar accompanies bizarre poetry from Lou Reed before a crunching guitar shatters the calm. Hetfield’s unmistakable vocals sit strangely with Reed’s unique voice but it’s not that bad. In fact it’s actually quite good. It’s different and it’s certainly not a Metallica track but the drums sound as good as they have in years. Next track ‘The View’ boasts an incredible riff. Again we have the offbeat verse from Reed but when Hetfield wades in its hard to see this as anything but a Metallica track. Seriously, listen to it without Reed’s vocals, it’s one of the heaviest songs Metallica have produced. ‘Iced Honey’ is a catchy tune. It’s strangely upbeat and radio friendly, well, as radio friendly as it’s going to get. Disc 1 closes with ‘Cheat on Me’ which sounds like an unproduced Metallica demo at best and an unfinished song overall.
Disc 2 has only 4 tracks but a 40 minute run time. ‘Frustration’ is the sound of what you’ve previously heard. There is no melody to Reed’s ramblings and it feels like two different songs are playing at the one time. It’s unrefined and shapeless; it gets a little grating. ‘Little Dog’ is as close to a ballad as you’ll find on an experimental art album. Metallica play with minimalist reservation as Reed speaks with more composure. Again, there are impressive riffs found in ‘Dragon’ but the song rattles in with no direction. Album closer ‘Junior Dad’ borrows heavily from ‘Brandenburg Gate’. It’s near 20 minute duration is worth listening to if you’ve made it this far as it has its moments. It won’t offer any surprises though and in many ways summarises the album. If you’ve turned off by now, chances are you’ll never hear this song. Ever.
Lou Reed and Metallica was never an obvious match on paper and it struggles to become clearer in the studio. Every so often the marriage works, with Reed’s lyrical poetry co-existing with the thunderous groove of metal’s biggest band. Other times it presents a cacophony of ill-informed ideas. At worst the clashes suggest that everyone just recorded their own thing without consideration for each other, their audience or anything on God’s green earth.
Is it the worst Metallica album in their catalogue? Probably, but it’s unfair to judge it by that comparison. The musicianship is blinding at times and the production is superb. You might not like the collection of notes that assembled here but when did you last hear Lars’s drums sounding so good?
Think of it as a Lou Reed album with Metallica as his backing band. That explanation might not appease Metallica fans but it’s a fair assessment. It isn’t a Metallica record and shouldn’t be judged as such. It’s an easy target for haters and it’s something the band are aware off. At their 30th anniversary shows Lars would threaten the audience with tracks off the album. The fact that Lou Reed then joined them onstage the cynical among you would suggest the band had planned on playing the tracks all along. Despite the universal slaughter of the album the audience went nuts for it live.
Maybe this is another one of those albums which fans love to hate until they burn the next new album from their “heroes”?