News Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu

Difficult, avant-garde, heavy, often disgusting, occasionally utter garbage, occasionally brilliant.

Much to my irritation, this has become one of the least exclusive ‘first listen thingies’ you’re likely to read. In his infinite wisdom, the man decided to stream the whole album online the day after I heard it. Fantastic start.

Having successfully ventured to Mercury Records, deep within Universal Music UK’s not remotely secret headquarters, I was faced with an album unlike (m)any other(s). This was to be, probably, the most intense 87 minutes of my life. Now, to try and digest Metallica & Lou Reed’s ‘Lulu’ on the basis of one listen, before regurgitating it in a relatively digestible, pleasant reading experience isn’t easy. After all, the album isn’t relatively digestible, pleasant or easy. It couldn’t be further from it. What it is though is difficult, avant-garde, heavy, often disgusting, occasionally utter garbage, occasionally brilliant and very long. Essentially, marmite ‘ain’t got shit on this’ when it comes to love or hate. Alas, here we go…

1. Brandenburg Gate
With the lyrics “I would cut my legs and tits off” opening the album in Reed’s monotonic, aged vocal, you get too much of an idea of what’s to come. Starting with acoustic guitar, and a procession of obscure lyrical images. Then it’s not long before the huge guitar begins. Simpler than usual, this is still most definitely Metallica. The weirdly askew vocals steadily get tighter with the music, as the huge guitar continues throughout. Not a bad start, neither a particularly remarkable one. But already, it’s no easy listen.

2. The View
The one that’s already on youtube, with the embarrassing amount of dislikes… In fairness it has to be said that the dislikes are more likely to be a selection angry Metallica fans, who may be, shall we say, slightly opposed to this change in direction. Not to ruffle any feathers. Anyway, this track again is full of obscure metaphors; Metallica’s James Hetfield singing (Reed’s lyrics) that he is “the root”, “the progress”, “the aggressor” and “the tablet”. Yeah we know what you meant Lou… Towards the end of the track we encounter a classic Metallica instrumental. With one of the album’s few solos, of sorts. This is another interesting listen. If you’re willing to give Reed’s essentially spoken vocals time, it is in a strange way a likeable track.

3. Pumping Blood
Peculiar lyrical content once again takes the lead here- “I will swallow your sharpest cutter, Like a coloured man’s dick”. Your guess is as good as mine. You find yourself constantly wondering, is this poetry or just utter bollocks? In that particular instance I’d say the latter. However as the chugging riff kicks in and Reed takes on the role of a possessed-murderer-type, it’s strangely captivating. Much like a lot of the album, one can’t help but listen intently to try and digest the madness. As the narrative goes, I believe this song describes the part where Lulu meets Jack the Ripper. This begs another question, why isn’t every song written about troubled girls meeting Jack the Ripper and sung in the style of Lou Reed…?

4. Mistress Dread
Put simply, this song is utterly, undeniably and almost impossibly, awful. This really is rubbish. Like really, really rubbish. It takes abstract deep into the realm of unpleasant. It’s as if Reed’s monotonic vocals have just been pasted over the moronic thrash riff with no care for how it will fit in with the music. My note at the bottom of the lyric sheet merely reads ‘farcical’. When this comes on, make yourself a cup of tea, or a gin, or just have a little cry. If this doesn’t dominate worst song of the year polls around the globe, then I’ll buy a 30 Seconds to Mars album.

5. Iced Honey
Relatively speaking, this is a return to form. In fact, this is actually a good track. The vocals fit in almost like a ‘proper’ song and there’s some clever lyrical work. But don’t worry, it’s still bleak as anything- “If your final gasp has the recipe wrong, And instead of hello you say so long”. This track even contains some conventional rhyming couplets. Yet, there’s of course at least one utterly baffling moment, “Poured on a piece of charbroiled lamb”. Charbroiled lamb? What exactly is he on? Then again, already, I’d expect nothing less. Let the journey ramble on.

6. Cheat On Me
Here we have a track, with what could almost be described as a chorus, which is again verging on being a conventional song. After a lengthy string intro, with sparse guitar notes, it steadily builds to the riff, which gets progressively heavier throughout. Lyrically, Reed is back on the ball here, “I have no real feelings in my soul, Where most have passion I got a hole”. Some of the first recognisable lead notes from Kirk Hammett appear on this track and overall it’s a pretty enjoyable experience. And again, like almost the entire album, it’s as engaging as it is intense.

7. Frustration
Here we have the biggest and probably best riff on the album, there’s a real Black Album feel to it. Lyrically, there’s lots of blood, whores and several references to being “spremless like a girl”. Again strange and grim, but the imagery is incredibly strong and absorbing. Another decent track, with particularly fantastic guitar. And it’s also good to know that “Frustration is my lexicon of hate”. I’ve always wondered what Lou Reed’s lexicon of hate was… Now I know. 

8. Little Dog:
All acoustic with the odd spatter of drum and abstract strings later on. Lyrically quite interesting with the dog sniffing its shit in the wind and how “money can do anything”. The metaphor of the dog engages you, musically it doesn’t. Neither bad nor good. 

9. Dragon:
A more apt name for this song would be ‘Dragon (The Really Very Angry Song)’. Feedback and Reed’s wobbly vocal build into another shamelessly large chord sequence. The lyric sheet for this covers a tedious three A4 pages, and some of my annotations include ‘bleak’, ‘angry’, ‘still fucking angry’ and ‘angrier’. This really is a very angry song, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. Giving us more of his wisdom, Reed reminds us how we’re “meant to be dismissible objects one fucks with”. That’s good to know. He further muses whether or not we are “both dead now?” amongst countless other very, very angry things. Cheery as the track may be, it’s actually quite good. Probably the most captivating song on the album, as well as the bleakest and angriest. In case I missed that bit.

10. Junior Dad:
Actually, relatively speaking, a fantastic end to the album. This is an incredibly emotional song, and you’d assume the one that reportedly made Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield cry. Starting with guitar akin to Metallica’s The Unforgiven, it builds to a vast Mogwai like guitar sound that eventually slows back down to the former accompanied by organ and/or strings. Probably the most accessible track on the album, it has a real sense of melancholy and genuine personal emotion unlike the widely abstract content on the rest of the album. For some reason the song closes with about thirteen minutes of string/organ noise, but you can turn off after a few minutes without missing out on anything. 

So there we are. Trying to conclude whether this album is good or not is near impossible. It’ll require many more listens to get even close to deciding that. Whether or not I have the patience to go through all those listens any time soon is another confusing question. However there’s no doubt that the album does warrant at least a repeat listen. It’s bleak, it’s intense, it’s incredibly engaging and it was definitely more ‘enjoyable’ than I expected. I do urge you to give it at least one listen to try and make your own mind up. Lots of people will absolutely hate it, but I think quite a few will also find it as interesting as I did. One thing’s for sure though, it’s definitely not dinner party music and it should probably come with a health warning. And if you’re impatient, then really don’t bother.

Metallica & Lou Reed’s new album ‘Lulu’ will be released on 31st October via Vertigo Records.

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