For fans, especially those who viewed Death Magnetic as a return to form, the bizarre digression that is Lulu, a collaboration with Lou Reed, is particularly painful. However, it should be painful because the album isn’t good, and rest assured it certainly isn’t good. There have been few pairings as awkwardly mismatched as these two are and every moment of the record bears this out.
I will, however, say this about Lulu: it is better than what bands of Metallica’s age, and older, have been pulling on their fans. It is a new work. A lousy work to be sure, but you see Loutallica trying something. Last week, I sat through five separate new recordings from older bands, each one a re-recording of their old hits, and most often these were done with new band members. The purpose for it is strictly financial. There’s a lot of money to be had in the realm of commercial and film/tv licensing. For a group that hasn’t seen sales money in a long time, and has been treading the boards in diminishing retro-combo-ticket tours, the revenue is too good to pass up. Only, they don’t own those songs.
The record labels, such as they are in a current state of irrelevance, see the licensing train as something to climb aboard as well and they’re not interested with parting with those recordings. So, what these bands have been doing is making duplicate versions, selling them on their own, and then casting their fortunes to fate hoping that some director out there is going to want “Come Sail Away” in their movie or TV show.
The problem here, and one that I think Styx failed to grasp when they re-recorded all these songs with “new” vocalist Lawrence Gowan for their Regeneration EPs, is that those who would use “Come Sail Away” in that capacity would want the version everyone knows, the version with Dennis DeYoung on vocals, and the version that Universal/A&M still owns. There is a sense that these re-recordings are, in fact, an exercise in futility.
I reviewed the latest Journey album Eclipse over the summer, and it was not a favorable review, but I credit them for recording new material. They already pulled the cheap gag of the re-record which was paired with their prior album, the debut with new singer Arnel Pineda, Revelation. I praised Foreigner for not taking that cynical option when they recorded Can’t Slow Down, which wound up being a pretty decent Foreigner album overall. This summer they released, you guessed it, a re-record album. I’ll say this again: if a company licenses “Rev On The Red Line” for an ad campaign for fuel additives, they want the nostalgic resonance that comes solely from the Lou Gramm-fronted version from the late 1970’s. The Kelly Hansen version (if such a thing exists) is not the same, no matter how similar it may sound.
This brings us back to Lulu. Here you find two “legacy artists” that could have done just the same, vomiting up their previously-chewed cud, only to munch on it again. Can I see Lou trying to repackage the Velvet Underground stuff in a manner that purports to be in his complete best interests? Sure. Can I see Metallica trying to market “One” as an anti-war anthem somehow, away from the constrictions of their Warner contracts (accounting for the mess that was Elektra Records, merged with East/West and Atco, then swallowed by Atlantic, Rhino, and then coming out via parent company Warners)? The fact is that they both tried something with Lulu. It failed, but they didn’t have to do anything new.
And you don’t have to like Lulu, not even for this thinnest of positives. And you also don’t have to stifle your dislike for the album. I’m certainly not. What you do need to do is divorce yourself from this weird, stalkerish notion of what Metallica is to you, and I think the majority of listeners can and have.
There is, however, a contingent of critics out there that are writing about Lulu as would a jilted lover, having seen the perceived ‘betrayal’ beginning with the Load/Re-Load albums, and manifesting in the nearly-as-awful-as-Lulu St. Anger. Feeling reconciliation after Death Magnetic, they felt the little family they’d created was back on track. That old devil Lou Reed has gone and wooed them away again. Their critiques are embarrassing, dripping with the kind of uncomfortably weepy and sticky sorrows that ooze out of D-grade Harlequin Romance paperbacks. The irony is that a lot of these particular sad-sacks also gave bad marks to Death Magnetic because they felt it was Metallic parodying themselves to rake in the bucks again. Now they cite is as a return to the real deal, and castigate Lulu for being the last transgression.
Metallica owes you nothing, and if any time or money was wasted on Lulu, it was that of the uninformed buyer. We live in the age of Spotify, the official album stream and the unofficial leak. There are no secrets in this media landscape now and everything is subject to early scrutiny, for better or worse. Anyone who gets burned by the recording did so in a complicit manner. Given all these ways of trying before you’re buying, if you actively choose to forego them, that’s on you. Metallica is not duty-bound to give you an album you’ll love. They should want to do that on their own and without histrionics from the fanbase, but if they opt not to, that is their creative right, however misguided. Lou Reed is not expected to bring you back to the era of White Light White Heat, much less Transformer. If they decide to collaborate on something nearly as unlistenable as what they’ve wrought, it is their right as artists to do so and your right as consumers not to eat if you truly believe it to be excretion.
I would not suggest you buy Lulu. I frankly will not listen to it again, as the album stream was more than adequate, thank you kindly. But please understand if you are the “abused lover” in this relationship that you have options and do not have to spend anything, or suffer anything, out of some misplaced metalhead loyalty. You can walk away at any time. Be thankful Hetfield and Co. didn’t rehash “Sad But True 2011” and move forward. It’s only rock ‘n roll. You don’t have to like it.
If you absolutely must, Lulu is available from Amazon.com.