Is Metallica's and Lou Reed's 'Lulu' really that bad?
Welcome to You’re the Worst, a new column that will reassess – you guessed it – some of the worst music ever made. Whether that means a brilliant artist’s lowest moment, a calamitous collaboration or a one-off acoustic atrocity, our goal here is to listen with clear ears. Are these scorned musical moments really as bad as everyone says or will we find some pearls amongst the rotting shellfish slime? Only time – and column inches – will tell.
We begin our series with two musical behemoths, who between them have produced (by my count) ten all-time classic albums. However, they’ve also served up several sides of utter shit – both regularly appear in “worst albums of all time” lists. But it was when they combined their powers that they truly delivered their most despised and derided effort.
I’m talking, of course, about Lou Reed and Metallica, who came together in 2011 to create Lulu.
If you woke up on 31 October 2011 to the news that Metallica and Lou Reed had released an album, you would have been excused for thinking someone had put a hex on you. Surely the only explanation was that someone had placed the names of every over-the-hill artist into a hat, drawn two at random, and then forced them to record together at gunpoint (this would also explain that 2018 collaboration between Sting and Shaggy).
But could this be a case of two wrongs making a right, of a combination so crazy – peanut butter on a burger, drinking an espresso before taking a nap, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s marriage – that it might just work?
At least, not according to the music press. Pitchfork said it showed a “disregard for their fans and music in general,” while Consequence of Sound called it “a complete failure on every tangible and intangible level of its existence”. MetalSucks.net voiced what we were all thinking when they asked, “Are you fucking kidding us with this shit?”
Their animosity is understandable; between them, this super group had not one, not two, but three world class bastards (Ulrich, Hetfield and, of course, Reed). And the album is – wait for it – an hour and a half long.
But let’s not judge a book by the fact it was written by megalomaniac grandads and is a thousand-plus pages. Instead, let’s all listen to Lulu together. Are you ready? Okay, everyone press play… now.
~ listening in progress ~
Done? Good. Then we can start our reassessment – first with the negatives.
- The lyrics. Yes, these are cringey, and in some cases just offensive. “A puny body and a tiny dick, a little dog can make you sick” is not a set of words that should ever be combined. Dicks get a lot of airtime on
- The music. Well, there’s lots of aimless metal jamming – the kind that you hear any time you walk along the corridor at a rehearsal space (why do metal bands practise so much more than everyone else?).
- The singing. James Hetfield is at his most self-parodic here. You know exactly what I mean.
So the lyrics, the music and the singing all suck. Does this mean Lulu is the worst album ever? Not quite, because the whole just-so crazy-it-might-work thing does in fact come off in places. The riff on ‘Mistress Dread’ is so repetitive that you lose yourself in it, as though NEU! showed up to a gig and were forced to use ESP guitars and Hughes and Kettner amps; Lou Reed’s lyrics do in fact have some enjoyably nihilistic moments (“You mean zero to me, I’m a passionate-less wave upon the sea”); and the end of ‘Junior Dad’ (terrible song title) has an Eno-esque minimalist beauty.
I’ll say it now: I actually quite enjoyed listening to Lulu.
In that case, why was this album so panned? Well, there’s the bastard factor that I already mentioned (fuck those guys). There’s the prejudice against people trying something new (just play the hits). And there’s also Western music’s bias against older artists (why aren’t they dead already?).
But mostly I think Lulu suffers because…well, who is it for? The Venn diagram of Lou Reed and Metallica fans is not a big pool of people, and those that do exist in that space (myself included) don’t get an awful lot from this project. It doesn’t have the pop-meets-art that marks out Lou Reed’s best moments. And it doesn’t have the speed riffage that made us all (well, me) love Kill ’Em All-era Metallica. Maybe if they’d just done a bit more rehearsing, and a lot more editing, we could have had something that worked. But they didn’t, and we don’t.
In the end, Lulu is definitely not the worst album of all time. I’m not even sure it’s a particularly bad album. But I won’t be listening to it again… and nor should you (okay, maybe the end of ‘Junior Dad’ just one more time).
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