Let me tell you the story of an artist from New York City. He was an older guy who wrote songs that were more like poetry set to music. One day he started singing his poetry – which was pretty insane by nearly any yardstick – over a musical accompaniment provided by some younger kids playing loud rock. The result was something completely crazy and cathartic and thrilling and I was a fan.
The guy I’m talking about is the late great Bingo Gazingo, the brains behind songs like “Juice The Juice (Or Let Him Loose)” and “I Love You So Fucking Much I Can’t Shit.” Bingo’s records were a blast. Nobody thought they were ‘good’ the way a Big Star album is good, but Bingo wasn’t trying to make RADIO CITY. And everybody celebrated him for being an old kook doing whatever he wanted to do.
I never thought I’d see the day where I said that Lou Reed was pulling a Bingo Gazingo, but I guess that’s kinda what he’s doing throughout this messy and crazy and wildly imperfect but strangely compelling album.
Song Three of Ten “Pumping Blood”
“Pumping Blood” is the first song on LULU that features only Lou Reed on vocals, and that is a good thing – it allows Lou to own the song from start to finish rather than having to share with James Hetfield and his roar. The song clocks in at 7:24 and is comprised of three main parts. The first section is about two minutes long and kicks off with vaguely atonal strings that are joined by the long drone of an electric guitar. Within nineteen seconds a thumping bass pedal – like a heart? A heart that is pumping blood? GET IT?! – arrives to step on what was a pretty decent start.
A solid metal riff takes over and Lou sings the song’s title again and again. At first it sounds like he’s in a weakened state and in desperate need of some actual pumping blood. But there’s one line where he rides the word “blood” like an old timey horror host and it suddenly becomes clear that Reed is having fun with this!
I would guarantee that Lou Reed’s sense of humor does not line up with mine – I can only imagine what cracks him up: yelling at a journalist? Laurie Anderson assembling a playful tape loop? – but don’t mistake what he’s doing here for someone being unaware of what’s going on.
After half a beat the second segment begins over a slowed down “Enter Sandman”-style arpeggio. Lars Ulrich does his best approximation of what arty drumming could sound like by playing around the beat, attempting to make his drums talk underneath Lou’s ranting. If Ulrich’s drums are saying anything here, it’s something along the lines of “I can afford to buy paintings! That makes me an artist too, right? Right?!”
The song steadily ramps up for the final third, which alternates between a standard issue rapid-fire Metallica song and some surprisingly effective metal-noise collapse. Lou is absolutely GOING FOR IT down the home stretch, shouting and begging “Oh, Jack I beseech you” atop the caterwaul over and over. (He also repeats the line “I swallow your sharpest cutter like a colored man’s dick” a few times but I don’t want to talk about that. Seriously, I don’t want to talk about it.) As I listened to the final part of the song a few times I wondered to myself if there was really THAT much of a difference between Lou’s beseeching Jack and him telling Jim to whip it on him in “Sister Ray”.
The answer is yes, there are a few differences. Lou’s not trying to be cool on “Pumping Blood” like he was then. But there’s also the hard truth of this not being the on same planet in terms of actual greatness. That will always be Metallica’s cross to bear – it’s clear they know WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT but in the end we’re always going to be stuck with Metallica trying to play WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT.
From what I’m saying, you might think that Reed is being self-referential by trying to replicate what worked for him forty-two years ago, but in his defense, do you think that he believes LULU is better than the VU? And if he does, how does that matter? He made those records, we didn’t! And the general public wasn’t buying what the VU was selling back then, so from where Lou sits, what’s so different about him making something that nobody embraced until after the fact one more time?
“Pumping Blood” is the best song on this album so far so I am giving it a 4.5 out of 10.