Beyond Magnetic: Forgetting Lulu

When you spend your life telling people that Metallica is your favorite band, you tend to get a little defensive. People generally react negatively when I tell them this and even fans of the band don’t seem to completely understand. The general public has hated them since Napster and the metal fans think they sold out somewhere between when they started making money and started cutting their hair. I can never remember which was the greater dishonor to metal. I have a feeling that most bands illicit a similar reaction which is why people so often tend to say they don’t know, or that they can’t choose their favorite band. Even fans of the Beatles have smart-asses like me telling them they like the most overrated band of all time.

Still, I like all of Metallica’s music. I like old Metallica. Ride the Lightning is the my favorite album, “For Whom the Bells Tolls” my favorite song. I like all the old stuff, Kill ‘Em All, Puppets, Justice. I like the stuff right around “sell out” time. The Black Album got me through hot summers hot-air-gunning paint off my parents house. Load and Re-Load were often in my ears as I walked to and from high school. I like all of Garage (both discs), S&M, and yes, even St. Anger. I loved Death Magnetic, a great return to form that seemed to make even critics of the new Metallica happy.

But then, Lulu came out. For those of you who don’t know Lulu is a collaboration between Metallica (a heavy metal band), and Lou Reed (the lead singer of the Velvet Underground). The proper reaction to hearing that they’re teaming up for an album is, “what?” Most music fans know that there is very little chance that this collaboration will end in anything besides abject failure. I ignored the album and hoped by doing so that I could pretend it never happened. But eventually I listened to it, every last song through Youtube. This was the first Metallica album I didn’t purchase on day one, and I’m incredibly grateful I saved the ten bucks.

Lulu sounds like a practical joke. The noise doesn’t make any logical sense. Lou Reed’s “vocals” (he’s basically just talking) have no place over Metallica’s typical heavy guitars. I’m one of the most diehard Metallica fans you’ll ever meet and even I can’t disagree with the critics here. This is one of the worst 45 minutes of music you’ll ever hear. There is one redeemable track on the entire album, the last one, “Junior Dad.” The title of the song is terrible but the actual music is quite listenable. Lou Reed still sounds out of place but not as much as he does on the rest of the album. The song is still too long by approximately 10 minutes (the song is 19:29!!!)

The E.P. Beyond Magnetic, however, has given me hope. After Lulu, I was afraid that all of the great things I heard on Death Magnetic would be gone forever. My fear was that the always slightly (alright, very) crazy band I had always said was my favorite had officially gone off the deep end. But these four tracks immediately brought me back into the fold.

“Hate Train”, the first track check in just under 7:00 and is as loud and fast as anything on Beyond Magnetic. The solo at the 4:00 mark is classic Metallica. “Just a Bullet Away” contains some of the great staccato guitar work you’re used to hearing from Metallica. “Hell and Back” starts slower but builds into a great song to run to. Nothing can pump you up more when you’ve got a mile to go then the line, “I will run straight to hell and back!” The final song on the E.P., “Rebel of Babylon” is the longest at over 8:00 and while it’s probably my least favorite it also contains my favorite guitar work, a dirty set of five notes that reappear throughout the song. Needless to say I like the E.P. A lot.

My hope is that this sojourn with Lou Reed was just a small side project and Metallica can get back to producing music like what we heard on Death Magnetic and Beyond Magnetic. Despite their age, no one in music plays better metal music. The energy is still high, the sound heavy and dirty, and the solos fast.

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