04 November 2011

Metallica and Lou Reed tank it

The much-hyped collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed hit shelves this week, and it’s pretty terrible. Both the heavy metal kings and the former Velvet Underground head have talked the project up like it was the second coming of chocolate and peanut butter. Unfortunately, it comes across more like sour cream and coffee.

Yes - it’s that bad.

Dubbed Lulu, the 10-song mish-mash has been getting skewered by critics and fans around the globe. And those who aren’t cutting it down are calling it some sort of artsy concept project in defense and that people just “don’t get it.” Traditionally, when something is pegged highbrow or has the artsy tag put on it, it’s just another way of saying that it stinks. 

Reed and Metallica first got the idea to do something when they performed together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert in 2009, playing the Velvet Underground classics “Sweet Jane” and “White Light/White Heat.”

From the outset, Lulu seemed like an odd pairing, even more so when details started coming out about the subject matter, which is inspired by German expressionist Frank Wedekind’s early 20th century plays Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box.

The result is basically the gravely voiced Reed ranting, rambling and spouting off spoken word nonsense while the Metalli-machine riffs off in the background, often at breakneck speeds that constantly outpace the dour vocals. The music is loose, never quite coming together to form a consistency, making it desirable or for that matter listenable. It’s like an album full of demos of songs that no rational human being could see going anywhere other than the garbage bin.

Metallica and Reed: Mismatch made in hell.
One Thirty BPM speculated in a review, “The whole thing comes off as either an expensive major label joke,” while The Quietus goes as far to say, “Not only is Lulu the worst thing any of the players have been involved in, it's quite possibly a candidate for one of the worst albums ever made.”

“I would say that it’s not for everyone,” Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett told Revolver magazine this week. “It definitely is not for everyone. If you can tune into it, I would say that that’s a great thing. But if you can’t really relate to it, that’s fine, too, because it really isn’t for everyone.”

Poor Hammett; stuck with the unenviable task of justifying the indefensible.

And it couldn’t come at a worse time for Metallica. The band released Death Magnetic in 2008, which was considered by many to be a return to its thrash metal roots of the past. At the very least it was a step forward in the right direction after years of confusing fans with differing musical styles, experimentation with a classic and beloved sound and alienating even the most hardcore fans.

Now, Metallica has take two giant steps back. The band has already begun the writing process for its next record, which probably won’t see the light of day until 2013 at the earliest, and there’s no telling where the sound will go - but hopefully it’s in no way influenced by the Lulu project.

Metallica’s prior stumbles
The total failure of Lulu is easily the biggest blunder in the career of Metallica. But there have been incidents in the past that have come to define the band in ways that are still talked about to this day.

Here are five of the worst:

1988: Where’s the bass?
Coming off the tragic loss of bassist Cliff Burton in a bus accident, Metallica brought in Jason Newsted. But listening to …And Justice for All, you would think that the band didn’t bother getting anyone to fill the bass slot, so low in the mix the instrument is turned down. Justice is a masterpiece, possibly the band’s finest moment, but the lack of bass still sticks in the craw of many.

1996: The Haircuts
It’s hard to imagine now how much superficial stock was once put in hairstyles, but one of the defining aspects of heavy-metal was the imagery, and having long hair was the lead characteristic. So when Metallica showed up with the release of “Load” in tailored suits, shorn locks while puffing on Cuban cigars, fans where aghast; and it didn’t help matters that the music was significantly less abrasive, taking on a more rock-oriented feel as opposed to the crushing riffage of the past.

2000: The Napster Controversy
The entire concept of file sharing turned the music industry on its collective ear. Suddenly songs were available for free to anyone who had a dial-up connection. The service Napster was leading the charge, and musicians didn’t know what to do. Metallica, more specifically drummer Lars Ulrich, became the face of the movement to take back what was rightfully theirs; the music.

There was no doubt that Ulrich and the other artists who decided to do something about such blatant theft were completely in the right. But when he delivered a list of some 300,000 names to the Napster offices of users who illegally downloaded Metallica songs, it quickly became the millionaires who were suing their fans.

2003: St. Anger
Metallica was in shambles at the turn of the century, the aforementioned Napster controversy, the departure of fan favorite bassist Jason Newsted and intra-band tensions coming to a boil resulted in a directionless attempt to reclaim the heavy-metal crown. St. Anger featured no guitar solos, a bottomless vat of riffs in each song that didn’t have any clear-cut beginning or end, out of tune vocals by singer James Hetfield and a horrid drum sound that reminded many of beating on pots and pans.

2004: Some Kind of Monster
To the average music fan, Some Kind of Monster is fascinating; the documentary is an in-depth look at a band coming apart at the scenes, going through group-therapy, trying to figure out how to function as a unit while having no bass player and a newly-sober frontman. But Metallica fans, some of the most hardcore on the planet, didn’t want to see their heroes talking about their feelings! They didn’t want to see the metal behemoths so exposed and raw - it was all too real.

Article first appeared in the November 4 Rock Music Menu in The Daily Times