When Lou Reed and Metallica walked the wild side together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anniversary concert in 2009, it seemed like a one-off jam session. But two years later, they’ve joined forces for a collaboration that’s less ridiculous than you might expect. Metallica are prog-metal maximists at heart, but on Lulu, they meet Reed halfway, often favoring the high-decibel droning the Velvet Underground learned from avant-minimalist composers: repetition, atonal overtones, traffic-jam audio vérité.
Both acts have had a thing for long songs; here, three tracks stretch past 11 minutes. Marathons like “Dragon” buzz gorgeously, emphasizing power-jangle guitars or 69-year-old Reed’s Continuum Fingerboard. Things can get ponderous once Metallica start impatiently stomping, but often they turn Reed’s pretensions into something muscular.
The art-song cycle – originally written for a Berlin theater production, declaimed from a female protagonist’s POV – revels in dominatrix decadence and bodily fluids (“a bleeding strap across my back . . .”); 44 years after “Venus in Furs,” the words won’t shock anybody, though they try. Reed’s reading is flat enough to get subsumed in the drone. He’s still preferable to the Cookie Monster vomit that passes for vocals on many metal records – and he’s still his own rock & roll animal.
Listen to “The View”: