The artists I admire most are the fearless ones, and I especially admire musicians who aren't afraid to take risks or fail.
I certainly put Neil Young in this category, and I think Metallica has shown enormous cajones coming back from their comeback album Death Magnetic with the strangest experiment of their careers, working with Lou Reed.
Reactions so far seem to be a collective, "Huh?," but you always have to remember that's what many people thought the first time they were exposed to Metallica as they were coming up the ladder opening for Ozzy. They were a new sound for a lot of metalheads, and it took a long time for the rest of the world who didn't believe in the band already to catch on.
Lou Reed is a brilliant lyricist and story teller. His live albums with guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who went on to play with Alice Cooper, are both awesome. Still, it's safe to say working with Metallica is an oil and water mix.
As Metallica has pointed out many times, this is not the next official band album, it's a whole other thing, and you should listen to the music on those terms. As James Hetfiled told Pulse of Radio, "We saw [Lou's] vision through him."
And Reed himself told USA Today, Metallica are his "metal blood brothers. They're very brave..." He also acknowledged that Metallica's die hard fans "are threatening to shoot me, and that's only because I showed up. They haven't even heard the record yet, and they're recommending various forms of torture and death. I don't have any fans left. After Metal Machine Music, they all fled. Who cares? I'm essentially in this for the fun of it."
Having heard only a little of the Lulu album, I can't say much about it except I really applaud the fact that Metallica was willing to take this risk, wheras I hated St. Anger because it wasn't so much an experiment, but a sad illustration of a band that was completely lost and on the verge of falling apart.
Now that they found their footing with Death Magnetic, I don't see Lulu as a sign they're slippin' again, but more of a bizarre left turn. As Lars Ulrich told USA Today, "People would like us not to stray beyond certain boundaries. That would kill Metallica. We feed on freedom. We love coming back to metal, but we need to turn over rocks or we'd suffocate."
Good, bad, or horrendous, even if Lulu winds up a failure in the grand scheme of things, I would consider it a respectable failure. As Time wrote in its review, the album was "a complete failure on every tangible and intangible level of its existence," but also that "This kind of failure is such a glorious, mythic, supernova failure that it's worthwhile to hear it happen….It's a remarkable album in that Reed and Metallica just did whatever the hell they wanted to and put it out there, and it takes more risks than the majority of music that has come out this year."