Album: Lou Reed & Metallica, "Lulu" (Warner Bros.)
Could it have been worse? Possibly. Would that have been difficult? Absolutely: in no way does "Lulu," a jejune feat of shrill and compulsive dross-assembling that in scale and complexity makes "Metal Machine Music" look like the feat of an autistic three-year-old, reflect on anything you previously knew about these guys, their careers.
Lou Reed we know is blameless, the world having long since abandoned its futile quest to provoke him into anything approaching actual shame. You know, like a human. Metallica is the stranger culprit here, since they actually seemed to care, recently even: "Death Magnetic" sounded like a band waking up from a decade-long food coma, and the band continued to kick out the jams live long after the rest of the body laid down to sleep. So what gives here?
That the ill-thought collaboration -- bloated to double-album length at a torturous 87 minutes, which almost feels like taunting -- should never have been made is a given, considering that no single track on the album merits even a full listen, let alone a full repeat spin. The preposterous pairing reportedly arose out of Reed and Metallica's backstage shenanigans at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award ceremonies a couple years back, when they all kicked back in the dressing room drinking Yoo-Hoo together and plotting out how best to demoralize longtime fans.
At length they succeed at this on "Lulu," which kicks off with the preposterously sloppy "Brandenburg Gate," wherein Reed (in the persona of the title character, who appears to be some sort of female sexual predator) professes his willingness to "cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff" before the lazy acoustic strumming explodes into a sort of poor man's version of Crazy Horse, with James Hetfield belting out "small town girl" over Reed's drunken-old-man shambling, never-ending monologue. It all sounds a lot like the kind of joke rock stars come up with when they're inebriated and that ends up in a drawer somewhere for years.
Why couldn't "Lulu" have found that drawer, you'll plead with the universe, by the time "Pumping Blood" rolls around, Reed hopping on one foot like a dime-store Injun while a bored Metallica vamps lazily behind him. The long spoken-word interlude smacks of past Reed glories but flops around like a gagged halibut ("If I waggled my ass like a dark prostitute," Reed asks, "would you think less of me?" Silly Lou. Of course we would.)
For their part, Metallica displays none of the vitality of "Death Magnetic" or even of the mostly meh-worthy "St. Anger," for that matter, sliding quickly and insistently into a form labeled "not urgent" throughout. Most songs -- including and especially the ick-inducing "Mistress Dread," wherein Reed appears to run down his list of fetishes in the name of dramatic characterization ("I beg you to degrade me / Is there waste that I could eat?") -- play out like Metallica-as-rehearsal-Metallica, the version of the band that plays five minutes at soundchecks and then heads to the bus for the next few hours to play video games and update its Twitter feed, except Lou bolted the studio door and wouldn't let them leave, so they had to stay put and keep churning out this weak broth. Songs seem to end, then kick back up and continue, but nothing really happens beyond that start-stop continuum: sometimes Lou Reed is singing and sometimes he is not. Sometimes the band is playing like this and sometimes it is not. The silence in the grooves between cuts almost comes as relief.
Also, there is not a single melody of note on the entire length of "Lulu," almost as if Reed forbade verse and chorus. Do varying tones hurt his ears? "Little Dog" almost threatens an actual tune for a bit, until you realize that it's simply the relative novelty of Kirk Hammett playing acoustic guitar that's fooling you. It's also eight minutes of Reed wandering through the sun-bleached desert, looking for his dog, which is eight minutes more than you have got.
At least "Metal Machine Music" had the sublime idiocy of Amphetamine Lou explaining patiently to a Capitol exec that he simply wasn't smart enough to hear all the classical music he had hidden inside the 87 layers of carefully stacked noise crackers, and if you would just listen -- sir, if you'll just hear me out! I can explain everything! -- it would all make sense. But "Lulu," the product of a totally sober man, in every sense of the word, is infinitely worse, mostly because Lou really does think it's good this time. And this means that Lou Reed can no longer tell the difference, which is terrible and sad, of course, because Jester Lou was something worth the occasional annoyances like albums full of screeching dolphin noises and po-faced lyrical oversteps like "that's what the Statue of Bigotry says..." This Lou, all the Lou we have left anyway, is just the pits and no cherries and most assuredly no fun at all.
Someone, by the way, should tell Metallica they can go home now. The door is unlocked.