Lou Reed and Metallica. Anton Corbjin
When life hands you lemons, sometimes you've just got to make lemonade. Ever since Lou Reed announced in June that he'd collaborate with Metallica (thus, the "Loutallica" nickname) on an album called Lulu, a collective sense of dread spread throughout the metal land. What on earth could these two aging institutions sound like together?
It's hard not to pass judgment. We don't have the context of a full album or much to go on other than Loutallica's own pats on the back. But who am I kidding? When a gravelly voice shakes vaguely revolutionary spoken word over disjointed chunka-chunka riffs, my eardrums start shoving wet tissues into my brain. [Update: Lulu is now streaming in its entirety at Loutallica's website.]
Whether out of frustration, boredom or sheer nerdery, some Metallica and Velvet Underground fans are making the best out of Loutallica by taking the track list apart before Lulu has even been released. With these "pre-covers," some are genuinely funny anti-music, some are too clever for their own good and some, perhaps in the spirit of what little we know about Lulu, are just unlistenably bonkers. But the "pre-covers" seem to be of two mocking minds: one a gentle ribbing and the other an angry kid burning ants with a magnifying glass.
The "leaked" fake Loutallica demos uploaded by YouTube user gr8080 are exactly what YouTube is made for: Yell loud enough and optimize search engines smart enough, and someone will find you. That doesn't make gr8080's version of "Little Dog" any less funny. If anything, I'm already yelling, "YOU NEVER HAD A LITTLE DOG!" at my coworkers. "Little Dog" is essentially the best-worst sludge-punk Stooges send-up that the art-rock weirdos in Trumans Water never made. [Correction: This version also appears on part two of the ILX Pre-Covers LULU compilations featured below. There's a lesson to learned here about fake songs uploaded to YouTube.]
On the other end are the ILX Pre-Covers LULU compilations, two separate tributes to an album that still isn't out. (You can listen to and download part one below; part two is available here.) Like memes do, the users of the I Love Music forum on ILXor.com have lovingly bonded over Lulu, taking the song titles and track lengths to build their own bedroom creations. There's plenty of cheeky GarageBand worship, like Matt Helgeson & Chris Besinger's "Little Dog," which could almost pass for Joy Division with toy instruments. Or the fuzz-guitar Casio-funk of n/a's "Pumping Blood." Oddly enough, Gypsy Chips' take on the previously released "The View" happens to share the same key, but this version launches a squirrel-chasing guitar line over a Kraut-rock beat. Blue Weather Ghosts' members also take the Kraut-rock route (is there a Berlin connection here?), but prefers to swirl psychedelic synths and flange guitars in "Frustration."
I reached out to freelance music writer Ned Raggett, who coordinated the project. He wrote in an email:
Members of the ILXor.com community have done a couple of pre-cover projects before, where we use details of a notable forthcoming album — who's releasing it and what the song titles are — to create a completely alternate version of it before it actually appears. We don't try to actually mimic the artists, so people do everything from specific references to completely unrelated styles and approaches. Lulu seemed like a really fun choice to do, given the sheer "What the hell?" nature of the collaboration, especially when one of us suggested as a further challenge that the songs people created should be the exact same length as the actual songs themselves. It took about a month to get both albums together, and what I'm still impressed by is the sheer variety throughout, especially since nobody knew what anything else on the albums would sound like; we have some talented musicians around, not to mention very sharp senses of humor! I have to say, as well, that we're all now really interested to hear what the actual album sounds like.
If given the opportunity to listen to the actual Lulu, I'll give it a fair shake. Yes, the stakes are low at this point, but despite some of Metallica's misses in recent years (*ahem* St. Anger), the band can still wrench out a good riff here and there. And, when Lou Reed isn't making questionable New Age albums for yoga or whatever, his voice has aged into a vulnerable presence. In the meantime, if pre-covering a potential train wreck with a loving wink before its release date is a thing, I'll keep listening.