In their 30-plus year career Metallica has generated plenty of controversy and criticism. From accusations of abandoning thrash to cutting their hair in the early ‘90s to hiring a shrink (as documented in ‘Some Kind of Monster) to the audio mix on ‘Death Magnetic,’ it has been nonstop. But those controversies paled in comparison to the nearly unanimous negative response to ‘Lulu,’ their collaboration with Lou Reed.
The unlikely pairing began when Metallica and the one-time Velvet Underground frontman played together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concert in 2009. They talked about recording an album together, and finally embarked on the project in 2011.
The songs were originally going to be re-recordings of unreleased and obscure Reed tracks. But then Reed brought songs he'd written for ‘Lulu’, a theatrical production based on writings by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. Reed wrote the lyrics, and the music was a collaboration between him and Metallica.
In addition to Reed and Metallica, several other musicians were used on ‘Lulu,’ playing instruments including the violin, viola and cello. Sarth Calhoun, who is part of Reed’s Metal Machine Trio is credited with ‘electronics’ on the album. Normally it takes Metallica years to record an album, but this was finished in less than two weeks.
‘Lulu’ was both a critical and commercial failure. After the album’s release on Nov. 1, 2011, it sold just 13,000 copies the first week and debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard Album Chart. Compare that to 2008‘s ‘Death Magnetic,’ which sold 490,000 copies in just three days.
Lou Reed and Metallica - ‘Lulu’ Track By Track
Reed does most of the vocals on ‘Lulu,’ alternating talking and singing in his trademark style, while Hetfield primarily provides background vocals. For Metallica fans not familiar with Reed’s lyrical sensibilities, 'Brandenburg Gate's' opening line, ‘I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski / In the dark of the moon,’ sets the stage for the unique collaboration.
The album’s only single and video, ‘The View’ generated some humor at James Hetfield’s expense. He sings the lyrics ‘I am the table,’ which led to pranksters changing his Wikipedia page. His occupations at one point were listed as musician, songwriter, producer and table.
The arrangement on ‘Pumping Blood’ is orchestral and bombastic at the beginning, before easing up in the middle. The heaviness returns, with urgency giving way to a groove-laden ending.
Metallica break out the thrash for ‘Mistress Dread,’ with heavy riffs pulsating behind Reed’s spoken word delivery. The lyrics are somewhat sinister as well: ‘I wish you’d tie me up and beat me / Crush me like a kick / A bleeding strap across my back / Some blood that you could kiss.’
Most of the songs on ‘Lulu’ are lengthy, with the opening song and ‘Iced Honey’ the only ones clocking in at under five minutes. This is the most traditionally constructed song on the album, and was originally slated to be released as a single.
’Cheat on Me’
The intro for the second longest song on the album (just over 11 minutes) is very subdued, with electronics and strings. Reed’s vocals don’t kick in until three minutes into ‘Cheat on Me.’ It’s a slow build, with the intensity gradually increasing to full-on metal mode. It’s the final track on the first disc.
Electronics take center stage at the beginning of ‘Frustration’ as well, before ominous mid-tempo guitar riffs take over. There’s another mellow break in the middle, then the aggressive guitars return, even heavier than before.
Lars Ulrich is absent for much of the first part of ‘Little Dog,’ and when the drummer appears, it’s a very subdued performance with low-key drums and cymbals. This is the mellowest song on the album.
After an avant-garde beginning, ‘Dragon’ turns into a fairly mainstream song about three minutes in, with straightforward melodies and guitar solos from Kirk Hammett.
Rob Wasserman, who has worked with artists such as Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Brian Wilson, played stand-up upright bass on the album’s closing track. ‘Junior Dad’ clocks in at almost 20 minutes, with the last eight being an extended string drone.