Reed’s delivery throughout Lulu has frequently been referred to as “spoken word,” and while this is true to some degree it should not be surprising to anyone familiar with his previous work. Going all the way back to “The Gift” on the 1968 Velvet Underground album White Light/White Heat, Reed has been marrying recitations to beds of rock music. Over the decades, Reed’s vocal style has evolved into an increasingly monotonous form of speech-singing. For those who haven’t been exposed, it will be understandably off-putting. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, and some are bound to find it repellent. But contrary to those who characterize Reed as a confused old man spouting nonsense, there is a great deal of passion and, at times, warmth in Reed’s vocals.
That warmth comes through in the album's extraordinary closer, “Junior Dad.” Though an extended instrumental coda makes this the longest track by far, its first half comes closest to Reed’s traditional style. Metallica provides a calm, reassuring, almost ethereal musical backing as Reed asks, “Would you come to me if I was half drowning? Would you pull me up – would the effort really hurt you?” Again I admit that I’m not really sure how this piece fits the overall concept of the album’s narrative, but it evokes a mood that isn’t heard anywhere else on the record. Its final eight minutes are probably not what many Metallica fans were expecting but they are subtly, soothingly melodic in their lovely drone.
Which brings up an important point: this is essentially a Lou Reed album featuring musical backing by Metallica, not the other way around. Anyone going into this expecting a Metallica album will likely be sorely disappointed. In fact, that seems to be the demographic complaining the loudest. Lulu is the first Lou Reed project to reach the top forty in the Billboard 200 since 1989’s New York. While I’m sure many Reed fans were happy to hear a new vocal album from him (his first since 2003’s ill-conceived Edgar Allen Poe concept piece The Raven), the reason for the relatively high sales was Metallica. Of course, those figures are anemic by Metallica’s standards, and the word of mouth – with many breathlessly proclaiming Lulu the worst album of 2011 – killed any potential for chart longevity.