"I attract and repel you," Lou Reed sing-speaks on "The View," the second bleak track on his new unholy alliance with heavy metal titans Metallica. The idea of this highly anticipated collaboration is -- to fans on either side, at least -- attractive. The band announced the project last June on its website, "a full-length album that is a collaboration with none other than the legendary Lou Reed," and minds began to reel. The result, however -- "Lulu" (Vertigo) (), out Tuesday -- is pretty repellent.
It's an awful album, true, but it could have been merely boring. After jamming together at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event in 2009, the former Velvet Underground leader and the world's lunkiest metal band agreed to collaborate on what was basically going to be a covers album: Reed singing some of his classic songs backed by the extra heft of James Hetfield & Co. But Reed, 69, had been writing lyrics inspired by the two seminal works of 19th-century German playwright Frank Wedekind. Say what you will about grumpy ol' overrated Lou, he at least prefers to move ahead instead of wading through his own nostalgia, so Metallica began providing amped-up musical input for this series of songs about Wedekind's sexually bold femme fatale, "Lulu."
When Reed made his purposely unlistenable album "Metal Machine Music" in 1975, he linked himself in his liner notes to "was what was to be known as heavy metal rock," as if the squalls of feedback that comprise that record gave birth to the genre. "Lulu," though, feels like a shotgun wedding rather than the natural and destined completion of a full circle. The marriage of Reed's thin, monotone voice to Metallica's thick, monotone riffs -- and an average song length of nearly nine minutes (including a 19-minute punishment at the end) -- produces a listening experience that is never anything more than a dismal, grueling chore.
"Lulu" is lead by Reed's words -- a typical stream-of-consciousness ramble that frequently fits this album's Halloween-week release date with vivid descriptions of spurting blood and murder -- and their leaden nihilism drags down every track, usually stifling every opportunity for Metallica to break free and contribute the kind of rock aggression we not only expect here but desperately need. The band grinds away joylessly, only pricking up in the speed-metal stampedes of "Mistress Dread" and the satisfying leaps and bounds of "Frustration," the least frustrating sprint in the whole marathon. The admirable creative folly of this experiment rarely bleeds through the performances, however, and never show in Reed's God-awful poetry. "In reality," Reed continued in the "Metal Machine Music" notes, "it was of course diffuse, obtuse, weak, boring and ultimately an embarrassment." Ditto.