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Album Review: Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu

on October 28, 2011, 8:00am
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Lulu is a complete failure on every tangible and intangible level of its existence. From conception to collaboration, production to execution, album art to lyrics, music to almost every part of the album-making process– including the nefarious masked villain who Inception-ed this idea into Lou Reed’s hapless cerebral cortex while he slept– it’s a failure. For most of us, however, this is not the big reveal of Lulu. This album was tried and sentenced by the court of public opinion well before its forthcoming trial date, as it were. Slowly drawing the curtain back on the track “The View” made matters worse — much worse — and most people sold their stock but quick, leaving nothing left for Lou Reed and Metallica to do but limp out of the gates and hope they’ll be taken out to pasture in lieu of a more grisly fate.

Fail? Yes. Bad? Not always. This kind of failure is such a glorious, mythic, supernova failure that it’s worthwhile to hear it happen. After aging artist playtime is over, what’s left are a few slivers of good, boldly highlighted like a few flecks of gold in a bag of discarded colored dicks, used tampons, and dried semen. Oh, you weren’t ready for that just then? Too bad. Neither was I when I heard those lines spoken on Lulu. Suit up.

Lulu is essentially a piece of shock art that’s littered with vulgarity both lyrical and musical. It reads like a misguided Bukowski impersonation and sounds like field recordings taken from Guitar Centers across America. Its source material are two 19th century plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind. Together, they spin a lovely tale about a girl, Lulu, who is sexually abused by her father, becomes a teenaged prostitute, marries a bevy of men (most of whom wind up dead), and then . . . falls in love with and is murdered by, purportedly, Jack the Ripper. It’s bananas, and, as a non-theatrical musical adaption, completely untenable.

The whole concept-heavy album thing — so, so predictably — blocks any empathy with Reed over the course of the 90+ minutes of Lulu. Knowing that the majority of lyrics aren’t originating from Reed’s addled-as-hell mind/soul is not only disheartening, but stymies the pathos a concept album with plot and characters seeks to create. Though maybe it’s good to temper bons mots like “her Kotex jukebox” and “sperm-less like a girl” and “the taste of your vulva and everything on it” with a 3rd person narrative.

These stretches of obtuse and icky lyricism eventually become at best a wash of caustic anger and at worse, hilarious. This wound goes unaided by producers (Reed, Metallica, et al.), as Reed’s voice is awkwardly abandoned on top of the mix, adding to the tonnage of proof that this Metallica/Lou Reed project is more orange juice/toothpaste than anyone had ever imagined. The most egregious stretches of the album come when Reed is at his most verbose, stumbling around a melody for minutes at a time, spouting off psycho-sexual lyrics about Wedekind’s story above tedious and boilerplate Metallica riffs. The gears grind loudest on “Pumping Blood” and “Dragon”, which simply cannot be tolerated more than once.

Finding solace in the music won’t get you anywhere, either. It’s worlds apart from melodic orchestral experimentation of Berlin, White Light/White Heat, or any Reed album, Metal Machine Music included (and preferred!). And in this corner, Metallica lolls around in an extended palm-muted parody that is neither dynamic nor trance-like. The riffage coming from Hetfield and Hammett is tired, and you’d think under the auspices of Reed, Metallica would grab the opportunity to remind us that they’re musicians that can exist out of the corner they’ve Metallica’d themselves into. You’d think so, but the best-of riffs they trot out would prove you wrong.

Those flecks of gold though? It’s mostly on “Junior Dad”, the coda to this sordid affair, the 20-minute, open-5ths finale, where Reed transcends Lulu and writes a beautiful song about insecurity, age, love, and trust. “The greatest disappointment/age withered him and changed him,” he sings, before repeating “the greatest disappointment.” Reed is finally relaxed. It’s just about the saddest song to come out this year, especially in the context of the previous 70 minutes of Lulu, Reed’s career, the universe…just everything. They always say to leave them with a fantastic final scene and they’ll forget about the rest of the movie, but Lulu will not get off that easy.

You’ll hear commentators from Reed’s camp and Metallica’s camp say that “The worst part about this [Metallica/Lou Reed] album is that [Metallica/Lou Reed] is also on the album.” They are absolutely correct. The failure spawned in the elevator pitch and never took its leave until the orchestral drones of the final track had subsided. 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. It’s a shame it never even had a chance.

Essential Tracks: “Junior Dad”, “Iced Honey”

Feature artwork by Drew Litowitz.

7 comments

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anon
October 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I haven’t heard the album so I can’t comment on the validity of the statement in relation to the music, but I take issue with this, just on a formal level:

“The whole concept-heavy album thing — so, so predictably — blocks any empathy with Reed over the course of the 90+ minutes of Lulu.
Knowing that the majority of lyrics aren’t originating from Reed’s
addled-as-hell mind/soul is not only disheartening, but stymies the
pathos a concept album with plot and characters seeks to create.”

Why do you need to empathize on a concept album? Isn’t this description more in keeping with “rock opera” than the idea of a concept album? Something like Alvien Lucier’s I am Sitting in a Room is effectively a concept album and I don’t feel any pathos there: it’s all about a concept (concept album) not a character.

Also, by this logic, wouldn’t all operas need to engender pathos, too?

Katy
November 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm

“I Am Sitting in a Room” is more of an aural science experiment than a rock opera, though…

I do not think “Lulu” is nearly as bad as the reviews make it out to be – it is Reed’s best album in almost 20 years! – but it would have been well-served with some second takes. 

Metallica needs second takes to get it right. Maybe third takes…

But I’m thrilled with the fact that a 70-year old Reed is still doing ambitious and challenging music that makes me work to decide if it’s genius or crap.

Sister Ray’s Enema Party
October 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I’m listening to it as I type this.  It’s pretty ridiculous so far but if you were expecting much from these 2 at this point that’s as much your fault as theirs.  It’s pretty much Metal Machine Music for real with actual vocals and chords.  Not particularly good ones but it could be worse.  It could
be Lady Gaga, it could be Justin Beiber, it could be Katy Perry.  The world’s a mess and this is
the album it deserves.  Sometimes being wretched is the only response that makes sense.

vargo05
October 31, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Dude, you’re so deep. 

greatcornholio
November 2, 2011 at 4:41 am

Dude, you are the biggest fudge packer.

the color of putty
November 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm

wow, it’s difficult to find anything positive written about this album, i’ve listened to it about 4 times now and i always end up emotional. sure, i’ll laugh at “i am the table” and “kotex jukebox” and when lou sounds like an old man (because he is), but the lyrics are gnarly if you can get past looking them like beavis & butthead. I haven’t really processed the male exploitation part of of your statement but i agree with everything else you’ve written here, especially when you say “making me feel alive again” and “created something visceral and brutally relevant”. totally.  i stopped listening to them after side A of the black album (i was 14 or 15) so i too have experienced disenchantment with this band. i haven’t liked anything they’ve done until this album.  there is true spirit in this album and believe it or not i like the sound of it, the production…jamming in the studio/ lars’ subtle “mistakes”. i mean, you guys saw that documentary right? they needed therapy…they show emotions and try to communicate them with another to survive 30 years playing together. whatever this album rocks

Joe
November 12, 2011 at 2:40 am

You know what this is?  It’s two people in desperation trying to give one another CPR.  It’s absurd, and needless, and awkward as all hell.  And it’s good for nothing but spectacle.