Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: "Lulu" by Lou Reed & Metallica

I’ve been avoiding writing this review.

It’s too complicated. There are traps. Seems like a no-win situation.

I once saw an old interview that Tom Snyder did on his “Late Show” with the Sex Pistols when they first came on the scene. I remember being awed by the genius of Johnny Rotten. No matter what he said, and no matter what Tom Snyder did…Johnny would win. Johnny was his usual snotty and antagonistic self; sometimes not answering questions, sometimes answering completely absurdly, and occasionally acting aggressive. The beauty in this approach is that no matter how Tom Snyder responded, it would be Tom himself who looked foolish. He could yell back at Johnny Rotten… And look like a cranky old guy. He could refuse to complete the interview…And look like a big wimp, obviously giving in to the immature punk. He could call Rotten on his actions and tell him to man up and act right…And look completely out of touch. No matter how Snyder played the tough situation, Johnny Rotten could make him look like a fool.

I feel like Metallica and Lou Reed – and the mass media, for that matter – have all made this into a situation not unlike the one I just described.

A reviewer basically has two options: Say positive things or say negative things.

If I say negative things, then I’m missing the art of this complicated record. I’m going along with what everyone else said before the album had even been heard by anyone outside of the band.

If I say positive things, then I’m taking the obvious path toward spite; saying the opposite of what almost everyone else is saying…just to be different.

Another quick story to illustrate my feelings about “Lulu”…

Back in 1999 when Stanley Kubrick’s final film, the very controversial “Eyes Wide Shut” came out, I agreed, along with two of the people involved in a morning show I worked with in St. Louis, to see it on our own and come back the next day with our thoughts. As I watched it, I remember thinking the controversy – the likes of which I hadn’t seen attached to a “mainstream” movie up to that point – was all much ado about nothing. It didn’t seem that big a deal to me. I didn’t really “like” the movie, but I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t good or bad…it just was. I could see the art in it; I could recognize Kubrick’s genius as a director. But it didn’t do much else for me outside of that.

Two of my fellow members of the morning show hated the movie and began to tear it to shreds. I and one other guy began to defend the movie. After a very lengthy debate as to the quality of “Eyes Wide Shut”, I began to realize my feelings for the movie were much more positive than I’d thought. While I still didn't "like" the movie, I really didn't like other people laying in to it, based on what I perceived to be their lack of ability to see the art in the film.

Same with “Lulu”.

It’s too easy to tear it apart. It’s too obvious.

I struggled with the decision to plunk down the money to buy the album. When I did, it sat unopened, next to the receipt, on my kitchen table for about 4 days. Later, I learned it was streaming online and I could hear the whole thing for free. I assumed I’d be listening to it once and selling the CD immediately after.

But I wanted to spend the money. I wanted to make that kind of a commitment to the experience. I didn’t want to open the disk until I was ready. I wanted to subject myself to what I knew was going to be a painful experience.

Masochistic, I know.

But it’s masochism in the name of art. Self betterment.

So I began to listen to “Lulu”. I don’t hate it. I recognize what it is that turns most people off about it. But, at the same time, I recognize the art and beauty – completely unconventional though they may be – in the album.

And as wishy-washy as this sounds…it’s just simply TOO EASY to say negative things about the album.

I, more then the next guy, will admit that great artists are capable of releasing really bad albums. And I’m not going to insinuate that Metallica are great artists. But they ARE a good band. And they know what they’re doing. I really don’t think they signed on the dotted line on this project, intending to make a bad album.

If you’re a fan of Metallica you should give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to this record. (As a listener of my Dirty Roots Radio Show said when I was vacillating about whether or not to buy the record, "It's Metallica...It's Lou put on your big girl panties and buy the record.") If you call yourself a fan of any artist; you owe it to them and yourself to show enough support to at least ATTEMPT to experience an experiment as bold as this.

By now we all know the concept: “Lulu” was a pet project of Lou Reed’s. He wanted to create the music for a theater group to use along with their adaptation of a series of old plays about an abused dancer who crosses paths with Jack the Ripper. After he did a one-off performance with Metallica at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event, he decided to just make it with them.

The lyrics are weird. Lou Reed – who is also weird…and old…and really cranky – delivers said lyrics in a really...well...weird, half-spoken, half-sung kind of way. And not like Willie Nelson half-speaks and half-sings his lyrics these days. Lou’s phrasing is all off. The music and the lyrics don’t match up; a pocket doesn’t exist for either Lou or Metallica to settle in to.

The experience is abusive.

And it’s painful.

But it’s unique.

And it hurts so good.

At one point in the publicity leading up to the release of “Lulu”, Lou Reed made a comment that this was some of the best music ever recorded. I won’t go that far. I will definitely say that this is NOT everyone’s cup of tea. But I want to point out, that this IS art.

And yes, to a certain degree, it’s art because it’s simply too easy to say this is a vanity project that just sucks this bad. It just can’t be that simple.

Most folks won’t – and have already claimed that they DON’T – like “Lulu”. But it’s an important work.

What makes it “important”? Boldness.

No one is bold anymore. Everyone’s worried about making a buck. Worried about their legacy.

I’m not really a Metallica fan anymore, but I’ll give them credit for never being afraid to say “F You” to people. When I was growing up in this small conservative town, guys who wore Metallica shirts were usually from the “wrong side of the tracks”. Then, Metallica came out with “the black album” and pissed off a lot of their core fans. It was their most mainstream and slickly-produced album; but it gave guys like me the chance to appreciate Metallica. I wouldn’t have heard them if they hadn’t released an album that got on the radio. Then, I dove back into their older stuff. I loved “Load” and “Re-Load”, when they pissed off more of their fan base by cutting their hair, singing with Marianne Faithful, and putting “high art” images of blood and semen on their album covers (though the “Unforgiven” sequel was a bit much). I liked a few tracks on the “Garage, Inc.” album, but they completely lost me with the “S&M” record they made with a symphony behind them. The “St. Anger” boat passed me by and I didn’t get into their “Death Magnetic” record. These guys have made their career out of thumbing their noses at any naysayers, be they fans, critics, or whatever. And I kinda like that.

One more thought: Lou Reed asked Metallica to make an album. Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed, who made “Transformer”. LOU REED! What would you do? And don’t give me any of this artistic integrity crap.

Dana Carvey once talked about smoking weed with Paul McCartney. He said he didn’t condone use of marijuana, but when a Beatle offers you pot….YOU TOKE! (I’m pretty sure I could "just say no" to Sir Paul, but I definitely wouldn't have the strength should the situation ever rise with Willie Nelson…)

When Lou Reed asks you to make an album with him, YOU MAKE IT! For the experience. Who cares if you don’t sell records? Who cares if people don’t get it?

For better or worse, Metallica and Lou Reed obviously believe in this album. And I don’t think they made it, realized it was a dud, and figured they’d better pretend to be excited about it. All parties involved are too good for that (and again, I fully acknowledge that anyone’s capable of making a bad record). But, it’s just too easy for that to be the case.

“Lulu” ain’t easy. And, again, it ain’t for everyone.

But it’s special.

Kudos to Lou Reed and Metallica for having the vision and courage to see this thing through.

And whether they like it or hate it, kudos to fans and listeners who commit to the experience.


  1. Thanks for a great review that confirms all of my own sentiments. I never heard any of the bad press about the album and only stumbled upon it by chance. Loved it the very first time I heard it. Can fully understand there being haters out there. Too bad for them.

  2. Thanks for checking it out, Daryl!