Lou Reed and Metallica are an odd coupling, though not as odd as, say, Lou Reed and Maroon 5. Both share an interest in extreme noise and despair, qualities in ample evidence on their grand and unsettling collaborative album Lulu.
The inspiration is two plays by the German expressionist playwright Frank Wedekind about the sexually promiscuous Lulu and the trail of madness, suicide and murder that she leaves behind. Controversial over a century ago, they have dated poorly: but Wedekind did inspire a genuine masterpiece, GW Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box, starring Louise Brooks, which Reed drew on when writing the album. Pabst’s film unfolds in an dream-like mood of erotic delirium, centering on the camera-enchanting figure of Brooks.
In contrast, Reed and Metallica evoke an ultra-male world of self-loathing and violence. “Mistress Dread” finds Reed announcing “I beg you to degrade me” over brutal speed-metal; on “The View” he drawls, “I attract you and repel you,” with perverse pride as Metallica lay down a slow, doom-laden groove. The combination of two of rock’s most formidably humourless acts provokes sniggers on “Little Dog”, intended by Reed as a dissection of dog-eat-dog masculine carnality, on which he instead comes across as Satan grumpily judging Crufts. But for the rest of its 85 minutes Lulu is redoubtable.
Reed’s career is well versed in decadence and provocation. At 69, with Metallica’s help, he has added a bold new chapter to it.
Lou Reed and Metallica