The announcement of the Lou Reed-Metallica team-up was like chum in the water for the snark that passes for critical thinking in so many circles. It’s not hard to see why: Lou has been a punching bag to multiple generations, with much of the hatred openly courted by Reed’s crankiness and critic-baiting, and Metallica more or less became a reality show about a metal band after the amazing documentary SOME KIND OF MONSTER yanked open the curtain on their ultimately mundane existence.
People were taking shots at the project before anyone had heard one note of the music, with the criticism hinging on how the pairing made no sense. And the only answer to that can’t be anything other than NO SHIT. Do you think they didn’t know that it was really fucking weird to make an album together? I found it charming in a way – Lou Reed working with Metallica is such a mismatch that they deserve some credit for going forward with something that doesn’t make sense on any conceivable level.
So much of making stuff is the act of trusting yourself. You’ve got to know better than anybody else what works for you. Great things are rarely ever made by committee, and if artists throughout history put their initial concepts to a popular vote, most of our favorite things would not have made the grade. But the flipside to that is when an established artist trusts the inner voice that has guided them to triumph after triumph… and it completely fails them.
It takes literally thousands of decisions to assemble an album, and it is wildly fascinating when every choice ends up being the wrong one. Albums like Bob Dylan’s SELF PORTRAIT or Elvis Costello’s GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD or Bad Religion’s INTO THE UNKNOWN or most of Neil Young’s 80’s output – or Reed’s own METAL MACHINE MUSIC! – are just so insanely off the mark that you have to give their makers credit for trusting the voice in their heads over the advice of everybody around them screaming that something isn’t right.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re not horrible! GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD is swimming in keyboard sounds that can only be described as ‘insincere’, and just try listening to some of those Neil Young albums as anything other than a study of an artist bored with rock music. And as ahead of its time as it was, how often do you find yourself throwing on METAL MACHINE MUSIC?
I made a decision to hold off on hearing the Lou/Metallica album in the fragments that trickled out over the month prior to the record’s Halloween release. There was something about this oddity – which is called LULU in honor of playwright Frank Wedekind, who I know literally nothing about – in its entirety. And I kept waiting, until now.
What I’m going to do is listen to a song a day and review it. And I will do this without judgment because I have a soft spot for crazy records like this and I’m not looking to crap on things just because it’s easy to do. I’ll always side with the people who make things over the people who sit around goofing on things without ever putting their necks on the line, no matter how awful the art is. I’ve made fun of records or movies or books that I didn’t care about either way at different points throughout my life and I inevitably regretted it – being nasty is a device that severely unfunny people utilize to pretend they’re funny too, and if you’ve got Actual Talent in this life you don’t have to go down that road.
But I don’t have high hopes for LULU – I have never been a Metallica fan outside of a few early songs, and I haven’t been into anything that Reed has done in eons, plus I know the lambasting this thing has gotten from people whose taste I respect – but I will gladly spot them the difference and see where we land.
Song One of Ten: “Brandenburg Gate”
The song starts off with a pretty decent strummy acoustic guitar and I’m feeling like this isn’t bad at all. Then Lou starts talk-singing about how he (from the POV of the prostitute character of the piece) would ‘cut his legs and tits off when I think about Boris Karloff and Kinski’ and I’m suddenly not sure if I can go forward with this. I mean, nobody knows I planned on reviewing this thing so maybe I should cut bait and get out now. But it’s Lou building a character and I’ll spot him the difference this early.
Then the band kicks in and it’s so amazingly lunkheaded. But in the scheme of things is this really that far from the bombast that Reed has dropped on us in the past? (See: ROCK N ROLL ANIMAL, STREET HASSLE, TAKE NO PRISONERS) Lou keeps ranting at the top of his lungs over a lumbering three-chord riff and it’s really not bad. But what’s not working for me is James Hetfield bellowing “SMALL TOWN GIRL!!” again and again, countering every one of Lou’s lines. It’s like he’s worried that people are going to forget he’s on this record. And the drumming is deathly – so busy and cymbal-heavy and mixed way too high.
But I am okay with this. It’s not my cup of tea but they are not embarrassing themselves any more than guys like Jay-Z or Kanye inviting the worst that rock music has to offer on their records again and again. After all the moaning about this project I guess I was ready to have actual human waste pour out of my speakers or something. But then again, at 4:19 this is the shortest song on the whole thing so I’ve got a loooong way to go before I’m done with LULU. The opening number gets a 3.5 out of 10.