Metallica, you’re on notice

Okay, I’ve had enough. Metallica, you’re on notice.

Have you guys heard the Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration? A full song, “The View,” has made it online. And it’s awful.

I’m a Metallica fan. I like Lou Reed. Even saw him live once and it was a great gig. I was looking forward to Lulu. But this song is simply not good enough, and while it’s not fair to judge an entire album on one song, if this is in any way indicative of how the album is mixed it’ll be yet another PR disaster.

Let’s have a look at the last 20 years of Metallica.

1991: The Black Album. I loved it, as did millions of others. It alienated a lot of die-hard fans, but making one of the most popular albums of all time is bound to do that.

1995 & 1997: Load and Re-Load. Metallica ditched thrash altogether in favour of hard rock and managed to release two extremely long albums of meandering material which would have been acceptable – but not great – as a single album of about 50 minutes length.

2003: St Anger. Apart from being a cynical and misguided effort to appeal to the nu metal crowd despite nu metal already being dead by then, this album simply sounds horrible. There are tracks where the bass is being recorded only by the drum mics! It’s simply unacceptable. And it sounds like mics were literally just placed in the vicinity of the guitar cabinets rather than placed anywhere that would result in the tones being actually good or of a professional standard.

2008: Death Magnetic. Metallica nearly gets it right. Despite a bit of residual St Anger rawness, the songs and performances are closer to thrash than anything Metallica had done since …And Justice For All two decades before. But the mastering! Much has been made of how this album was mastered way too loud, and how this adversely affected the finished product. It’s like Metallica knew they were close to something that would retain their old 80s glory in a real way, and felt compelled to do something to keep it from reaching that level. Did they not want to repeat themselves? Were they afraid that if the final master sounded too good, people would compare it to the older stuff and feel it was still missing something?

You could even throw …And Justice For All into this argument. It simply sounds bad. The bass is virtually non-existent, the guitars sound harsh, the drums sound flat, and James Hetfield’s double-tracked vocals just sound like you’re being barked at. The songs and performances are killer, but there are a lot of “but’s” to get over when you’re an admitted Justice fan like me.

And now there’s Lulu. Seriously, if this is the final mix, it is simply unacceptable from a professional standpoint. It sounds like Lou Reed is reading directly into your ear from his lyric book while Metallica plays in the garage of the house next door. There does not seem to be even a cursory attempt at integrating Reed’s vocals with the band – not in sonics, not even in friggin’ tempo. Reed has always been able to pull off ‘lazy’ – over the years his vocal delivery has degenerated to disinterestedly speaking his way through lyrics, and that has its own charm if you give it a chance – but this is downright insulting.

Metallica seem so concerned with not being compared to their glorious past that they have to always do something to distract you from what they’re doing, something that you as a fan feel like you have to make excuses for.

So if this is what the actual mix for Lulu sounds like – Reed turned up to 10, Metallica on about 3 and sounding like they were recorded on an iPhone – then perhaps we as fans need to stand up and say no! Have your little collaboration, make yourselves happy with what you’re doing, but you still need to make it listenable for we, the fans. We no longer feel like defending you to ourselves. Simply make good music that sounds good, and accept that that’s okay, even desirable.

And let someone tell you “No” every now and then, like back when you were young and hungry and you had to earn every “Yes.”