When Metallica announced the impending release of Lulu, their unlikely collaboration with Lou Reed, in 2011, the announcement was met with more than a bit of trepidation by both Metallica and Lou Reed fans alike. What would Lulu sound like? The idea of taking a tune like “Sweet Jane” and crunching it up to Metallica-level metal sounded interesting, but would that translate with original material? Lou Reed fans were raising eyebrows as well. What was the Godfather of punk and indie rock doing recording an album like Lulu with a metal band?
Metallica and Lou Reed fans collectively held their breath for the release of Lulu, and hoped for the best.
Lou Reed wrote all of the lyrics to Lulu originally for a Berlin theater production, and it was Reed’s idea for Metallica to put the music behind those lyrics. Metallica jumped at the chance to work with the rock legend, but they quickly realized that Lou Reed did things his own way, as Metallica front man James Hetfield recalled to WTF’s Marc Maron.
“It [Lulu] was definitely an ‘in the studio’ jam kind of feel, and Lou was from that school. That ilk of, you know, back in the 60s or 70s, you jammed it, you recorded it, and then you’re done. ‘Hey [Lou], let’s try that again.’ ‘Nope. I just did it.’ Okay, okay, I get it. Lou has spoken.”
When Lulu was released on October 31, 2011, the result was, to be kind, interesting.
The overwhelming amount of reviews for the Metallica and Lou Reed collaboration were pretty bad. I mean, really bad. Blabbermouth’s Don Kaye couldn’t make sense of Lulu.
“On nearly every cut, Reed’s wavering, emotionless, melody-free vocals undermine any potential musical power that the band can muster. With a few exceptions, the vocals and music don’t sound like they belong in the same universe, let alone the same room.”
And of all the major reviews of the Metallica Lou Reed collaboration, the one by Rolling Stone’s Chuck Eddy was probably the most kind, giving Lulu three out of five stars.
“Things can get ponderous once Metallica start impatiently stomping, but often they turn Reed’s pretensions into something muscular.”
Okay, so Lulu wasn’t well received, that much is clear. Releasing music, especially by bands or performers who have had the longevity of both Lou Reed and Metallica, is never a sure thing. Both Lou Reed and Metallica have had clunkers in their respective bodies of work. Not every record is going to be a home run, that’s just the nature of the art. However, according to Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich, Lou Reed took Lulu’s poor reception particularly personal, and was, in fact, devastated by the bad reviews.
In a recent Loudwire interview, Metallica’s Ulrich recalled just how hard the bad reviews hit the rock legend.
“The record came out, and as you may know, some of the critics were not particularly… kind to this record. And he was, I mean, he [Lou Reed] was really hurt… We’re pretty thick-skinned. We’ve [Metallica] been through ups and downs for years, and if we like something we’d done and we enjoy the experience, that’s what matters to us. But I think he was really saddened by the response to it[Lulu] and I felt … it was weird. The roles changed at the end where I became almost more maternal to him, and had to like sort of comfort him through this very difficult month when the record came out and it just got f***ing slammed.”
It’s hard to believe that a rock and roll legend like Lou Reed would be so affected by negative reviews to a collaboration album like Lulu. For one, Reed had to know that a collaboration between himself and a band like Metallica, a band that everyone on the planet recognized as a completely different beast than the music that Lou Reed traditionally played. As such, you would have thought that a rock veteran like Reed would have been prepared for the possibility that the strange compilation between himself and an act like Metallica might not have worked as expected. But, given that, perhaps Lou Reed really believed in the project that much. Perhaps he saw Lulu as something groundbreaking, as something completely different and forward thinking, and just maybe he was disappointed in the world’s inability to appreciate it more than devastated by the negative reviews.
[Featured Image by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images]