Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Audio Sadism: Metallica and Lou Reed - Lulu




But alas, I must review this... "album" out of self-hatred and because I said I would in the last AS post. So, without further ado...

First, let me get this out of the way to appease naysayers (if there are even any who try to defend this album): I did listen to this whole album. TWICE. When I put myself through these albums I always put aside any preexisting notion of album quality, listen with a fresh mind, and try to find the best of it. But, both listens turned up empty. You heard me right. There is not a SINGLE REDEEMING QUALITY to this album. NONE WHATSOEVER.

The production is alright, I guess. I mean, it's overproduced and clipped to hell because "METAL IS LOUD \m/", but at least you can hear the instruments well enough, except for the bass, but this is Metallica after all. The concept could have worked if done by a group of musicians competent enough to actually pull it off convincingly. The album is based off of a series of controversial plays by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, and that in itself is loaded with potential! The stories are certainly dark and gritty, making it ripe for a metal concept album, and the play aspect makes it fitting for lengthy, progressive epics, recurring motifs, and other such thing. Hell, if this album were done by, say, Opeth, it'd be a masterpiece!

I can never not find a use for this picture.

But here's the thing: Metallica, with their collaboration with Lou Reed, are trying to be something they aren't. They're a thrash metal band, first and foremost (and a suffocatingly generic one at that); they simply aren't suited to the lengthy compositions that this type of subject material calls for. Before the album released, there was some possibility that Lou Reed, in all of his polarizing weirdness, might be able to bring the album past mediocrity, and if it did turn out to be shit, it'd certainly be spectacularly shitty. But, unfortunately, it seems like the bulk of the music was done by Metallica. Lou Reed's biggest contribution to this release is vocals. I know he's Lou Reed and he's supposed to be polarizing and avant-garde and all of that type of stuff, but here, he simply sounds like an old man, and that, combined with the lyrical content of the album, raises the album to new heights of disturbing mental imagery. Take the first track, Brandenburg Gate, and envision this: C-major tuned acoustic chords start the track off, and it all sounds swell, maybe even exciting, when SUDDENLY YOU GET AN OLD MAN STATING THAT "I WOULD CUT MY LEGS AND TITS OFF WHEN I THINK OF BORIS KARLOFF AND KINSKI"

And that's among the least cringeworthy of Lou Reed's vocal sections. 

For me, it's not the lyrical content itself, I mean it's certainly unnerving, but there's a difference between unnerving to get across the intended concept, and then there's creepy-perverted old dude unnerving. Maybe if these lines were done by a guest female singer or something, it'd be much improved. But nope, we're stuck with Lou Reed and James Hetfield doing this. With James Hetfield's backing vocals repeating "Small-town giiiiiiirrrrllll!" amidst Lou Reed's creepy old-dude vocals, you'd think that this was an elaborate joke on the fans. And let's not even delve into Hetfield's now-infamous outburst of "I am the table!" on The View. Special mention goes to Little Dog, the second track of disc two, for being pure, unadulterated WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS WHY IS THIS EVEN A THING.

And then there's the repetition. Oh, GODS, the repetition. On the fourth track, Mistress Dread, the first riff is an almost decent Metallica-caliber one, finally kicking the album into the long-awaited thrash metal experience that Metallica are known for! ...And then it keeps going. And going. For the rest of the song. Which also happens to be seven-minutes long. Later, the second-disc song Dragon seems to show some promise with the building-up of the central riff and the increasing heaviness and speed, but again, it's the same riff being repeated for 11 minutes, UNINTERRUPTED. It's literally the only riff in the song! There's verse-chorus-verse song structure with some repetition, and then there's second-wave black metal repetition, AND THEN THERE'S THIS. Sure, the repetition might not be as bad if the riffs were some really great ones, but these are among the most simplistic and generic riffs that Metallica has ever released. (Even by Metallica standards!) That, combined with Lou Reed's aforementioned creepy-old-guy vocals already negates 95% of anything this album had going for it. Case-in-point, the final track, Junior Dad. It's twenty minutes long, and at least ten of those minutes consist of a strings section playing the exact same chords. The orchestra apparently does perform throughout the album, but I barely noticed it, and it's a damn shame that they were consigned to THIS.

It's boring. It's pointless. It's poorly-executed. It's Lulu, the much-maligned collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed, and rightfully so as I have borne witness to. Some concepts are better left to memory, for the sake of mankind. I'd say it deserves to be heard just for how much of an atrocity it is, but hearing this entire album is a fate I would wish on no man. If you want experimental Metallica, check the Load albums. If you want Metallica with an orchestra, check the S&M live performance. Spare your sanity and forget that this album exists. 

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