|Lou Reed & Metallica - 'Lulu' (Mercury)|
|Written by Jamie Richards|
|Monday, 31 October 2011 04:45|
I was first aware of Metallica when some of the cool, older kids in our school spoke in hushed tones about them, not wanting (yet really wanting) everyone to hear what they knew and we didn't. That was late 1985, and within a year not only was I listening to this special band I'd also witnessed the power of them in the live arena. I was very aware back then that support band Anthrax were much more fun, they were so much easier to enjoy live, such a good time to be had with them: but even as a sixteen year old I could see what Metallica had to offer, what they had to back up the hype. Metallica were serious. They didn't piss around in baseball caps and funny shorts, not on stage at least; they didn't swap instruments or pretend to be rappers: there were no gimmicks with them at all, they didn't need any. They didn't need the gimmicks because you couldn't get away from the sheer quality of their songs, they were brutal carousing epics, they made the mould and they broke out of it at will, and no one else came anywhere near them.
There's no need to cover their career again here, only to point out that as well as the killer songs they also had an uneasy relationship with the success they so obviously craved and deserved, they were a band with a genuinely restless personality. It was a yearning that has pushed them constantly through changes to their own 'magic' formula over the years; some subtle, and some rather more drastic that have lost them many old school fans along the way.
So, after all the changes and experiments of the last thirty years, the old guard must have thought that Metallica's involvement in the 'Big 4' gigs over the last year or so would mean that San Francisco's favourite head banging sons had finally remembered which side their metal bread was buttered, and were headed into the studio to record 'Ride The Lightning' part 2, or maybe even better: a 30th Anniversary of 'Kill 'Em All' tour, where they play the first album in its entirety plus assorted greatest hits.....like fuck, this is Metallica we're talking about.
There's been so much already written about this collaboration that by the time I actually get to hear it I feel like I've readied myself for any shock that may come, however brutal it may be, I feel ready. Like being warned about an impending car crash long enough in advance to slide your seat back, ease off the pedal, lift up your knees and cradle your body to minimise the damage, yet also increase the adrenalin rush as the impending contact approaches.
So to nip the story quickly into a bud for you, if you don't already know it, there was a play written around 100 years ago about a woman and her numerous lovers and abusers, and her eventual demise at the hands of one of them, Jack the Ripper. Legendary New York rock and roller Lou Reed was an admirer of this old play and penned a set of lyrics to tell the story, and sometime in the last year or two he persuaded the mighty Metallica to help him bring it to life. And bring it to life they do!
Kicking off with 'Brandenburg Gate' we are teased in by a harmless sounding acoustic guitar before Reed kicks in with what has to be one of the most startling opening lines ever "I would cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff..." seconds later the Metallica juggernaut rear ends the whole thing and pushes it relentlessly forward. They drop occasionally into stoner rock gear, touch on doom territory and punch the throttle back to warp speed thrash through some real hypnotic trance like sequences, time and again. I have to say that Metallica have rarely sounded this good in the last twenty years, and to be fair, even though they've hit peaks and troughs over the years, they've only really sounded particularly bad on the misfiring 'St Anger' album. But really we should forget about individual songs here, for although 'Lulu' is presented as such, it is without question a ninety minute journey you need to take with this album. Maybe it's the weight of responsibility lifted from Ulrich and co's shoulders by Reeds involvement that allows them to flow like this, and flow they do, they are out of control....yet in control, they really are quite brilliant throughout.
There's no getting away from what the sand in the Vaseline is gonna be for most folks here though, and that is Lou Reed. Take your eye off the ball for a minute and you might think some grimly fiendish wino has wandered into Metallica's studio and rambled over their new recording session before Sergeant Hetfield came back to fully voice the project, but that's not giving it the attention or respect it deserves. It's Reed's baby after all, and don't you ever forget that.
Lou Reed and Metallica have created a ridiculously individual, stand alone record, that's both unsettling and magnificent. Lou Reed reminds us of a lost art in story telling with a disturbing, hypnotic and relentless narrative that is set to the most breath taking heavy metal sound-O-rama you could imagine. It defies categorisation; in fact it holds you firmly by the throat and warns you not to even attempt to find a label for it. This record will possess you like no other mainstream release has done for decades, if you allow it to that is: because like every great piece of art ever created it needs the observer/listener to be involved, to invest time and commitment in it in order to truly digest and enjoy it. I would boldly suggest that 'Lulu' is best heard as a 'headphones' record, absorb and enjoy it locked inside your own mind, away from any completely pointless distraction, only this scenario will truly allow this weird, nasty, spooky, filthy bastard of a record to best take its pleasure on you. I just hope you don't feel too dirty the next day.
In a world where a seemingly never ending succession of bands revisit their own classic albums, or even plump for a covers album in ever more desperate attempts to recapture former glories, or receive longed for recognition; in a world where the BBC has decided that the 'pat-a-cake pat-a-cake' rock music by numbers of the Foo Fighters is what we should get excited about, and in a world where Alice Cooper finally insulted our intelligence by sullying the reputation of his greatest ever album; major league rock music needed something like this. It needed one of the big hitters to make a statement of intent, and Metallica and Lou Reed have stepped forward and kicked a nasty big hole through that oh so neat and tidy fence of mediocrity; and in doing so they have reminded us that the only rule that exists in the beautiful sub-culture of rock 'n' roll, is that you obey no rules. You may love it as I do, or you may hate it; but the most important factor in all this is that Metallica and Lou Reed couldn't give a shit what any of us think. They've put it out there to stand or fall; and isn't that the way it should be?
You could argue it's the greatest piece of work Metallica have ever been involved with, it's certainly the bravest. Personally, I think our generation finally has a 'Dark Side Of The Moon'.