Lulu is a collaborative album between rock singer-songwriter Lou Reed and heavy metal band Metallica. It was released on October 31, 2011 by Warner Bros. in the U.S. and Vertigo elsewhere. The album is the final full-length studio recording project that Reed was involved in before his death in October 2013. It was recorded in San Rafael, California, during April through June 2011, after Reed had played with Metallica at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary Concert which led to them wanting to collaborate. The lead single, titled "The View", was released on September 27, 2011.
Conceptually, the album is based on the two "Lulu plays" by the German playwright Frank Wedekind (1864–1918). The majority of composition is centered on spoken word delivered by Reed over instrumentals composed by Metallica, with occasional backing vocals provided by Metallica lead vocalist James Hetfield. Reed wrote the majority of the lyrics. The album was released worldwide on October 31, 2011, and on November 1 in North America. Upon its release, Lulu received mixed reviews from music critics, and an extremely negative response from fans.
Reed and Metallica had both been on the bill in October 1997 for the eleventh of Neil Young's Bridge concerts. The conception of the collaboration project began in 2009 when both Metallica and Lou Reed performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary Concert. After that performance, they began "kicking around the idea of making a record together," but did not start working together until two years later. In February 2011, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett announced that in May 2011 the group would start working on something that's "not 100 percent a Metallica record. It's a recording project, let's put it that way." The project was revealed to be a collaboration with Lou Reed once the recording of the album had been completed in June 2011.
The collaboration was originally intended to be Metallica re-recording various previously unreleased tracks Reed had written over the years. Among these unreleased demos was a collection of songs composed for a play called Lulu—a theatrical production of two plays originally written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. Reed shared the demos of these songs with the members of Metallica to help bring the "piece to the next level," and the group provided "significant arrangement contributions" to the material. David Fricke of Rolling Stone heard at least two of the songs from the project in June 2011—"Pumping Blood" and "Mistress Dread"—and described their sound as a "raging union of [Reed's] 1973 noir classic, Berlin, and Metallica's '86 crusher, Master of Puppets." All tracks were made available for listening on the official Lou Reed & Metallica website before its release. Reed stated that "Everything is cut live – us staring at each other, playing". The recording was problematic at times, with Lars Ulrich admitting that at one point Lou Reed challenged him to a "street fight".
"The View" was released for streaming online in late September 2011. Examining reaction to the track and a previously released 30-second preview of the same, The New Zealand Herald reported that there was much negative reaction by fans online, and that the song had about twice as many "dislikes" as "likes" on YouTube. Not all reaction to the song was negative; Rolling Stone gave "The View" a 4 out of 5 star rating while the same song was rated 4.5 out of 5 by Artist Direct and positively by One Thirty BPM. The song's music video was directed by Darren Aronofsky, with cinematography by Matthew Libatique and produced by Scott Franklin through Protozoa Pictures, his and Aronofsky's production company. Originally it was planned that Aronofsky should helm a performance video for the album's second single "Iced Honey" but "when everyone got together, it became obvious "The View" was the way to go."
Upon its release, the album received mixed and polarized reviews by music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, Lulu received an average score of 45, based on 31 reviews. Staff reviewer Joseph Viney of Sputnikmusic rated it one and a half out of five and commented "The fallout from this could have dire consequences. A lot of people, already placing Metallica at the best seat in the house at the Last Chance Saloon have now called last orders. It's genuinely difficult to guess what their next move will be. As for Reed, his legacy, whatever that means in his case, is cemented and this will have no real effect on him."
Pitchfork Media critic Stuart Berma assigned the album a rare 1.0 rating, writing "for all the hilarity that ought to ensue here, Lulu is a frustratingly noble failure. Audacious to the extreme, but exhaustingly tedious as a result, its few interesting ideas are stretched out beyond the point of utility and pounded into submission." Essayist and pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman, in his review for the website Grantland, wrote, "If the Red Hot Chili Peppers acoustically covered the 12 worst Primus songs for Starbucks, it would still be (slightly) better than this." Reviewer Julian Marszalek of The Quietus gave it a very poor review. He commented that "the effect is that of Lou Reed ranting over some Metallica demos that were never intended for human consumption." Marszalek summarized the review by suggesting that time spent listening to Lulu could have been better spent watching grass grow, "or perhaps wanking into a sock." Furthermore, longtime reviewer Don Kaye, who had previously defended Metallica's much-maligned 2003 album St. Anger, wrote on Blabbermouth.net that "Lulu is a catastrophic failure on almost every level, a project that could quite possibly do irreparable harm to Metallica's career."
Uncut gave the record a positive review, singling out the closer "Junior Dad" for praise and calling it "breathtaking" and "astonishing", a "perfect ending to the most extraordinary, passionate and just plain brilliant record either participant has made for a long while." NME, scoring the record seven out of ten, praised it as "a surprising triumph", and said that the offering's "breadth and ambition is to be applauded. Metallica have performed way beyond what many thought them capable; they improvise freely as Reed's musical bitch, while for him this marks his most outré offering since 'Metal Machine Music'". The Telegraph awarded Lulu three stars out of five, stating that while it was "grueling, even by latter Lou Reed standards," the sense of "unrestrained folly" and sheer lack of commercialism made the album feel "important". The German edition of Metal Hammer gave it four out of seven stars. The reaction of the reviewer, Metallica biographer Joel McIver, was mixed. According to McIver, Lou Reed and Metallica had created an "avant-garde theatrical" soundtrack which is "not easy to listen to" and recommendable for Lou Reed fans. However Metallica fans "will mostly ignore Lulu—and listen to Master of Puppets". In another contrarian review titled "Metallica and Lou Reed's 'Lulu' Is Actually Excellent", James Parker of The Atlantic wrote "I don't think the record is crap. In fact I love it", and recommended, "Give Lulu a shot. Give it another listen. Offer it what Lou would call your ‘coagulating heart,’ and you will be rewarded."
In contrast with other sources, The Wire, a British avant garde music magazine, considered Lulu the no. 9 record of the year. Indeed, The Wire's Jennifer Lucy Allan comments about the bad reviews: "ultimately, the reaction to it is a testament to Lou Reed’s ability to still get up the noses and under the skin of even the most open-minded listeners. He’s probably laughing his head off at it all this very minute". Mattin in his review of Lulu for Volcanic Tongue agrees when Lou Reed said "This is the best thing ever done by anybody" and he adds "Lulu is more Lou Reed than Lou Reed and that surely means that this is the best thing ever done by anybody."
In a piece published on the day of Reed's death, Robert Christgau wrote that Lulu "probably didn't get enough" "mazel tov" from critics.
At Lou Reed’s 2015 posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Reed's widow Laurie Anderson announced that David Bowie had referred to Lulu as Reed's "greatest work".
Lou Reed stated that Metallica fans threatened to shoot him due to the collaboration on Lulu. In response to this and the overall negative reaction to the album, Reed commented, "I don't have any fans left. After Metal Machine Music (1975), they all fled. Who cares? I'm essentially in this for the fun of it." Lars Ulrich also noted the negative reaction to Lulu, and stated that he wasn't surprised by the criticism due in part because, "In 1984, when hard-core Metallica fans heard acoustic guitars on "Fade to Black", there was a nuclear meltdown in the heavy-metal community," and also noted that Reed's poetry is "not for everyone." Talking about the negative reactions, James Hetfield expressed understanding of "fearful people", who are "typing from their mom’s basement that they still live in", stating that the band needed "to spread our wings" and try something new, while Reed stated that it is for "literate people".
In the United States, the album debuted at number 36 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 13,000 copies. This made it Reed's highest-charting release since Sally Can't Dance, which reached number 10 in 1974. Lulu debuted in the top 10 of the charts in eight countries.
All lyrics written by Lou Reed; all music composed by Reed and Metallica.