To say the Lou Reed and Metallica album Lulu is a contradiction is perhaps unnecessary. Titans of their respective styles, the two acts don’t seem to share any surface similarities but dig a little deeper and common ground appears: Lou always loved noise, Metallica never kept their metal simple…and both love the dark side, never resisting the temptation to romanticize blackness. These tenuous connections are enough for a collaboration thriving on contradictions: not only are the two acts a forced fit, it’s as reasonable to judge the album based on a perfunctory listen as it is to spend time decoding its mysteries. Lulu is all too easy to dismiss after one listen, or perhaps even after a quick scan through its brutally long songs. Such a quick sample reveals that Lou and Metallica are an ungainly pairing—Reed’s cracked, throaty growl as unpleasant as the band’s lurching, restrained stumble, the group all too conscious of slowing down the tempo so their adopted leader can spill out all of his words—and familiarity with their idiosyncrasies doesn’t engender endearment, so it’s perfectly justifiable to take this deliberate alienation at face value, never bothering to dig much deeper into an album that arrogantly demands attention. And, unlike so many albums of 2011, Lulu was designed to baffle when consumed via 30-second snippets. It is both a smirking endurance test—can you make it through the 11-minute “Cheat On Me”? How about the 20-minute “Junior Dad,” saved as the closer to this double-album?—and a self-consciously weighty piece of art intended to shock and repel. That it’s more likely to do the latter instead of the former says much about how it’s harder for Reed to provoke in 2011 than it was in ’67 or ’77—it is not only expected, his provocations are heavy-handed—but even more about the accidental ugliness of the collaboration. A certain quotient of nastiness is deliberate—it suits the subject chosen by Reed, who has adapted century-old plays by Frank Wedekind whose obsessions with seamy sexuality and violence mirrors Lou’s own—but Reed and Metallica rarely seem in sync with each other: they’re playing simultaneously but not together. Reed’s words land with a thud and Metallica’s music is reduced to a grey grind, the two meeting at a middle ground of plain ugliness stripped of any sense of seductive degenerate seediness. Some of this cacophony erodes upon repeated plays and it’s possible to hear Metallica effectively underpinning Lou’s unpleasant hectoring, a purposeful marriage of word and music, but to what end? There’s an artfulness to this alienation, which is in itself almost admirable, but there’s also no way into the record—no visceral rush, no hooks, no haunting strands of imagery—so it’s hard to find reason to give it a second chance in order to dig out its meager rewards.