Legendary singer-songwriter David Bowie has hailed "Lulu", METALLICA's controversial collaborative album with former THE VELVET UNDERGROUND frontman Lou Reed, as a "masterpiece," calling it "Lou's greatest work."
Bowie's opinion of "Lulu" was revealed during the speech Reed's widow, Laurie Anderson, gave last night (Saturday, April 18) at the the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, where her late husband was being posthumously inducted as a solo performer.
"One of [Lou's] last projects was his album with METALLICA," Anderson said in her speech. "And this was really challenging, and I have a hard time with it. There are many struggles and so much radiance. And after Lou's death, David Bowie made a big point of saying to me, 'Listen, this is Lou's greatest work. This is his masterpiece. Just wait, it will be like 'Berlin'. It will take everyone a while to catch up.'"
Despite the fact that Anderson could not fully appreciate "Lulu" at the time of its November 2011 release, she has an opportunity to re-evaluate it in the 18 months since Reed's Ocober 2013 death from liver problems.
"I've been reading the lyrics and it is so fierce," she said in her speech. "It's written by a man who understood fear and rage and venom and terror and revenge and love. And it is raging. Anyone heard Lou sing 'Junior Dad' will never forget the experience of that song, torn out of the Bible. This was rock and roll taken to whole new levels."
Three and a half years since its release, "Lulu" has only sold under 40,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"Lulu" polarized fans around the world and earned METALLICA some of the most scathing reviews of its career. The effort featured the former THE VELVET UNDERGROUND frontman's spoken-word poetry and lyrics combined with METALLICA's musical assault for a jarring experience that didn't sound like anything METALLICA had ever attempted before. A concept album based on two early-20th-century plays by German author Frank Wedekind, the CD was co-produced by Reed, METALLICA, Hal Willner — who has produced albums for Reed, Marianne Faithfull, and Laurie Anderson, among others — and Greg Fidelman. Fidelman also mixed the record.
METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett said that he was unfazed by the fact that most of the band's fans found "Lulu" to be virtually unlistenable, saying "I love that album to death. It's unfortunate that other people don't see it the same way as I do, but what can I do about it? I can't do anything about it. I can just keep on loving it. And if people like it, great. If people don't like it, that's great too. It's only music."
In a 2012 interview with Spin, METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich admitted that the band was caught off guard by the vehement reaction to "Lulu", saying, "It was more spiteful than anyone was prepared for. Especially against Lou. He is such a sweet man. But when METALLICA do impulsive riffing and Lou Reed is reciting abstract poetry about German bohemians from 150 years ago, it can be difficult to embrace."
Asked whether the band had second thoughts over some of Reed's lyrics, like "I swallow your sharpest cutter / Like a colored man's dick," Ulrich said, "I understand that to some 13-year-old in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, it can all seem a little cringe-worthy, but to someone raised in an art community in Copenhagen in the late '60s, that was expected."
More surprisingly, Ulrich also revealed that he and Reed almost got into a physical altercation while making "Lulu". He recalled, "One time I had to point something out to him about how things were functioning in the outside world and he got hot and bothered. He challenged me to a street fight, which is a pretty daunting proposition because he's an expert in martial arts and is never too far from a sword. The good thing about me is I can do the 100-meter dash faster than most other 48-year-old musicians."
The collaboration between METALLICA and Reed was sparked by their performance together of Reed's "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat" at the 25th anniversary of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame at Madison Square Garden in October of 2009.
The songs were all written by Reed with extensive arrangement contributions by METALLICA.
Only two songs on the album are under five minutes in length, while two are more than 11 minutes long and the closing cut, "Junior Dad", clocks in at 19 minutes.
Reed died in October 2013 at the age of 71, five months after he had a life-saving liver transplant, according to his wife, Laurie Anderson.