Review Summary: Shite Light/Shite Heat
Metallica have made an admirable effort in alienating their huge fan base since the release of 1996’s Load
. In the interim, people have sighed and groaned through Reload
(nothing more than a glorified b-sides album to some), the fun but hey-we’ve-still-got-it feel of Garage, Inc.
, the faux-classical mores of S&M
and last but…well, yes, least of all, the under-cooked insanity that was St. Anger
. Even 2008’s Death Magnetic
was a vapid and transparent attempt at recapturing something from their past.
The news that Lou Reed and Metallica were to collaborate was met with no small dose of trepidation. The combination of Metallica’s aforementioned troubles mixed with the fact that Reed is a mere blip on the Relevance Radar was a stark early warning to many. The release of the album’s second track “The View” as a preview of things to come was met with howls of derision and accusations of the whole project being some kind of elaborate prank.
presents a set of songs inspired by German expressionist Frank Wedekind's early 20th century plays “Earth Spirit” and “Pandora's Box”. The plays, originally published in 1904 and set in Germany, Paris and London in the 1890s, whirl between the points of view of Lulu, a prostitute locked in a vicious cycle of desire and abuse, and the people who fall desperately in love with her. The narrative concludes as Lulu meets the one and only Jack The Ripper.
The biggest question Lulu
asks of us is this: during the writing, rehearsal, recording and production of the LP, was there a point where any of those involved thought that what they were creating was not 100% acceptable? When Reed presented Metallica with lyric sheets replete with lines about gobbling down on “coloured man’s dicks” and “I’m a woman who likes men” did nobody think to say “Hey, Lou…cut it out.” When a group like Metallica with years of expertise and a number of classic records to their name recorded little more than incomplete jams and jarringly repetitious riffs where were those involved with quality control? Why was Lars Ulrich allowed to run free with drum patterns that make AC/DC sound like Dream Theater?
It’s not as if drugs or alcohol can be blamed anymore. Perhaps if this album was released in the late 80s or early 90s…but it wasn’t. It’s 2011 and this is now the acceptable face of Lou Reed and Metallica’s efforts. Despite people’s wariness there was a sense, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, that the majority of those in the know actually wanted this to work.
If you haven’t guessed already, it does anything but “work.” Opener “Brandenburg Gate” has Hetfield howling about a “small-town girl” like some insane Billy Joel karaoke bonanza over a sloppy riff. The beginning of the song finds Reed name-checking a number of horror icons, although in a very odd way; “I would cut my legs and tits off/when I think of Boris Karloff.” Metallica’s arrival on this LP is announced in typical clattering fashion, but their playing is repetitive and out of tune. “Pumping Blood” is memorable only for Reed muttering the title over and over as if he was rudely woken up and shoved in front of a live microphone. Ulrich’s drumming is intrusive and bad throughout the track. “Pumping Blood” contains the only evidence of acknowledgement between the collaborators. “Come on, James!” orders Reed…but nothing is forthcoming. “Mistress Dread” hints at something better; a fast, frantic riff. Four minutes later, it’s the same riff with absolutely no deviation. It’s also hampered by the fact that Reed’s vocals are so slow and out of time he might be issuing his pleas and demands from another time zone altogether. “Cheat On Me” takes five and a half minutes for anything of note to occur. “Little Dog” is a cure for insomnia and “Junior Dad”, at a soul-destroying 20 minutes long, is perhaps one of the most pointless songs committed to record in a long, long time.
The average song length on Lulu
is a whopping eight minutes 42 seconds. Although we can immediately discount the idea of this record appealing to the casual fan, when it proves testing to dedicated followers of either act it becomes a worry. In a war between art and endurance, Lulu
ensures a resounding first round knockout victory for endurance.
Are there any positives? “The View” is perhaps best track on the record. Reed delivers his lines with some conviction and the instrumentation is halfway inventive, particularly in the latter part of the song. The work is immediately undone by Hetfield’s repeated insistence that he is indeed “the table” (coming to a meme near you very soon, no doubt). “Iced Honey” begins with a neat little “1, 2, 3, 4” count for Reed and a Metallica riff with enough swing to hark back to a demo of their Load
efforts. That’s the problem though. It sounds like a demo. Following the trend prevalent throughout the LP, the music doesn’t deviate and Hetfield’s backing vocals veer from caterwaul to cacophony in off-putting fashion. In the same song Reed invites the listener to consider the idea of being jam “poured on a charbroiled piece of lamb.” “Frustration” contains the most powerful example of Metallica’s work on the record but Lars’ insistence on placing fragmented drum solos throughout the album reaches its unwelcome crescendo here. “Dragon” bears some form of promise, but the same riff is hammered out again and again and again. Reed spends the entirety of “Dragon” telling us how he’s “oblivious to caring.” Yeah, we know that feeling, Lou.
seems ready made to dispense the notion of repeated listens as the sense of disappointment it creates almost immediately eliminates any idea that it’s a “grower.” Maybe history will judge it less harshly, but as of this moment the project is a total failure. Prepare yourself for the inevitable comments from Ulrich about how we “don’t get it.” Perhaps he might have a point, but any message contained within Lulu
is lost in the whirl of discordant guitar work, Reed’s mutterings and the complete sense of abject disappointment that surrounds the entire album.
The fallout from this could have dire consequences. A lot of people, already placing Metallica at the best seat in the house at the Last Chance Saloon, have now called last orders. Metallica aren’t young Turks, of course, but a band concerned with releasing new records semi-regularly and touring more often than their contemporaries must have one eye on their reputation and something to prove. It’s genuinely difficult to guess what their next move will be. As for Reed, his legacy, whatever that means in his case, is cemented and this will have no real effect on him. Was there an alternative, a better to way to do this? Yes, there was. Have Metallica record their own work and Lou Reed record his own too. In essence: as you were, gentlemen.