I have approached this work in so many ways that I admittedly have several starts and endings. Four months and several listens after my first acquisition of Lulu. I almost can’t imagine what the first listen was like. So I saved my first response listen writing and put them against each other. many thanks to readers for indulging me). So here we go – and get a cocktail or something to tide you over.
First few listens review
Lulu. My assumption is that you could replace the word “Lulu” with “Berlin” (or “SMiLE”) and it would be the same damn review that was regurgitated from 25 years ago.
I read reviews after I was through Lulu. I didn’t want to hear what anyone has to say and
I knew there would be some haters, but this?
“….Fans of both artists responded with confusion, if not outright despair. But while this partnership may seem random, the two actually have a lot in common. Both abuse electric guitars; both like to wear black and be photographed by Anton Corbijn; both have indulged in lifestyles that threatened to become death-styles; both have a habit of alienating their fans by taking ill-advised stylistic detours and, by extension, both are considered by many to be class-A assholes.”
Really? Because I assume the usual “fan” mail received by most critics reads pretty much like preceding quote (except that critics abuse pens and keyboards and independent thought). I wonder if anyone bothered to read up on Lulu itself, as a project. Or possibly on Expressionism… When I first listened to Lulu’s Brandenburg Gate it made me think of the movie “M” by Fritz Lang. It was a pretty fucked up and dark movie for the time, you’ve probably seen it, centering a serial killer in Germany. I knew nothing of Lulu until I looked around a bit. I can say within the first 5 minutes Lou Reed hits about every Expressionist film out there… Yet these moron critics keep talking about Lou Reed’s inability to write and sing. Has anyone read or watched anything … ever?
Says another reviewer,
“The guitar riffs and solos are messy and not very well thought out. There are no epic Metallica riffs in this album at all. There are no “face melting” guitar solos anywhere to be heard, and no musical merit whatsoever…. It has been said that this album is experimental, so I feel it is safe to say that this album was a failure and nothing of this sort should ever be tried again.”
HAHAHAHAHA! I actually liked reading that one. I am glad that this reviewer is in touch with experimental art… his assessment that “nothing of the sort should be tried again” has saved us from the disaster of nonlinear thinking.
Holy shit, the music is supposed to be unsettling because Lulu the character is unsettling. I suppose if you tried to set angst, S&M, pain, murderous flailing, disposable souls and broken humans into caricatures, threw it all inside a back alley circus of the absurd noir, all gilded by virtue of its relation to upper crust decadence… I’d assume you’d come close to Lulu’s entrance.
Oh well, once a goddamn critic always a critic.
Here’s my crack at a mainstream Lulu review. Oh spirit of the critics, I summon thee!
“Couldn’t Lou and Metallica have made a nice PowerPoint with a few ‘face melters’ as the baseline track instead? I mean, where the hell is the radio clip in this deal anyway? How the fuck is a person supposed to listen to this heap of shit without actually having to listen to it in its entirety? Fuck thinking about stuff — last time I remember thinking during Metallica was when I couldn’t decide between the 7-11 nachos or hot dogs and then I got a nosebleed when I swilled my Cherry Slurpee and accidentally jammed my nose into the straw while headbanging in the parking lot. You see how well that worked out for me then, so why start now? Kind of annoying you know…. Iced Honey is the closest radio track, but it still doesn’t sound anything like Metallica’s junior album Ride the Lightning.
And Lou Reed… I never got that guy anyway. What’s the big deal? He can’t sing and he just rants on and on like some crazed old man version of Kathryn Hepburn. I mean that’s what he’s done since like 1960, right? That one album with the banana on the cover that he did — it was okay but overrated as he’s been ever since. That album gets as much play as I do… and believe me that’s not saying much. Lulu…. just fuck it. Don’t buy it cuz it’s like poetry and some bad singing and some bad background vocals by Hetfield (not sure why I am claiming that his vocals suck on this album as opposed to any other previous ones, considering the fact that he’s always had the same vocals… but I digress) and the drums are okay — but never really much of anything that you’d turn on the strobe light for, I never felt the need to air-drum once during the entire CD…and by “entire” I mean 20 seconds of each track.
To top it off, there are some stringed instruments backing them… Christ didn’t Metallica hear us when we told them back in the mid 90s to NEVER use an orchestral collaboration? They did that shit once and we, the critics, told them it should be stopped…forEVER … then the fans finally got it and riots ensued. Right Metallica… We TOLD you not to get fancy and you did…again.
So fuck your little project Lulu. And screw you, Lou Reed. Didn’t stop you from producing high-faluting bullshit since your asshole predecessor Andy Warhol made a GD mint off of painting soup cans. Still sucks and it always will.”
Things we all know:
Lou Reed is a millionaire and a rock legend. Metallica is of the same path and I’m sure their respective bank accounts reflect this. I am not usually so pissed off on behalf of millionaires. I say these things preceding my commentary on Lulu because (1) it actually means something to not immediately dismiss an artist merely because the art appears inaccessible; (2) the world is full of shit art that does really well in the earnings and rating department; (3) earnings and ratings as a measure of true worth are as meaningful as a politicians promises, so why consider them part of the artistic venture; (3) opinions and assholes, okay we’ve heard it before, so this asshole just wants her shot; and mainly (4) Lulu is truly worth a thoughtful review…. Not just a bash or based solely on dreaded deadlines. Take a third fourth fifth listen on this album before making a judgment. Lulu will unfurl its layers as the character it portrays.
My three-months-later review
Not convinced yet…. Why care? You don’t have to. But sometimes art – music, paintings, photography, films, writing – just needs an open heart. Not necessarily a bleeding heart, but a heart that is open to the idea that artistic expression sometimes exists just to kick our asses and make us uncomfortable. On occasion religion and people we love do this too, so what’s the shock in regard to art? In the case of Lulu, love does not mimic the norm or accepted path. And, for me, that is the draw and essence of the character that is Lulu. Unfortunately, artistic interpretation is not an easily digested item at times… I’m not sure it is supposed to be. It should be experienced and considered before it’s judged, not unlike people. And like people, some art is rough around the edges on a first run. Let art happen and you might find yourself changed – just a little, just a slight. That’s okay, that’s part of the challenge.
My rant up to now… Lulu is worthy of a few chances. She’s not going to save the world lollipops and rain gumdrops under a standing ovation, but she might make you appreciate few well-placed cuts.
Brandenburg Gate. What a lyrical masterpiece. It does everything a theatrical stage entrance should: sets the scene, remarks on the characters, defines the mood, and declares a protagonist. All against a butterfly’s acoustic guitar … Visions of a girl lazing in the moonlight of a summer eve dreaming about who she is to become, her thoughts…. “I would cut my legs and tits off when I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski in the dark of the moon. Makes me dream of Nosferatu trapped on the isle of Dr Moreau. Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely?” Piecing her creation together, lilting pauses, until the heavy melodious danger of Metallica bursts into to the room. A budding sociopath? A discarded soul unable to grasp the mundane ‘normalcy’ of the rest of the world. All this substance in less than 4 minutes.
“I’m just a small town girl, giving life a whirl.” Oh Lulu, not for long.
The View. “I am a chorus of the voices that gather up the magnets set before me. I attract you and repel you, a science of the heart and blood and meaning….There is no time for guilt, second-guessing based on feeling. I am the truth, the beauty that causes you to cross your sacred boundaries.”
I can’t decide whether this piece is about Lulu or generations of development/societies innate hypocrisy. Either way, it’s more than just ‘I am the table!’ I keep reading reviews that talk about Lou Reed’s lyrics and poetry as mere shock value. That’s not the case. This is an introduction and development of the main character… it’s who she is. If it’s shocking then that’s Lulu… not Lou Reed.
The obsession people have with the lyrics…. I don’t know what to say except that I found them well executed, doing their job, succinctly describing Lulu’s evolution. Lou Reed’s delivery is exceptional … the pauses and feeling required to riff along with the speeding musical interludes created by Metallica. Not an easy thing to achieve. As usual though, I have heard people claim they could sing better than Lou. Feel free to try. Then again, I have also heard claims from people that they could paint pictures with their asshole that look better than VanGogh’s art. I suspect these claimants have never tried either and, if they have, quietly slinked away knowing they were wrong. “I want to see your suicide, I want to see you give it up.”
Pumping Blood. The real heaviness of this work appears. Metallica lends a great riff to the whole revealing… the birth of Lulu. This is a true revelation of who Lulu is and how she becomes… and then becomes again. Her growth into what she finally quite perfectly and beautifully sang in the beginning. This is not such a stretch. At times the Lulu poetry reminds me of how some (not all) prostitutes have felt regarding love and affection and relationships, depending on how the prostitution went for them. Pain, love, barter, unconditional, sex and love as an act of devotion, not all experience translates into happytown. Pumping Blood is reminiscent of Patti Smith’s beauty, Horses. I also had thoughts of Lou Reed’s own Berlin, Caroline Says II. To finalize the repetition, “In the end, it was an ordinary heart. Jack, I beseech you!” Yes, this seems to me a love story, conquering, and discovery.
Mistress Dread. All the way speeding orgasmic. She is completely present and that’s part of her allure. The love developing between these two is so manic and methamphetamine in its devotion it’s a scary experience for them. It’s love – but in the case of these, blood and pain is the way to unconditional acceptance. “You are my Goliath and I am Mistress Dread.”
Iced Honey. This appears the anthem (of sorts) of the overall work. Love her for who she is. Speaking directly, she asks us to understand who she is and, once you do, you must accept your own fate at her hands. Otherwise, you have nothing to complain about. This is her challenge to all who cross her path, and many have failed in their assumptions of Lulu.
If you make others feel like jam poured on a piece of charbroiled lamb. If it’s all mixed up and your cannot shout and your oxygen starts to run out. If your final gasp of has the recipe wrong and instead of hello you say ‘so long’ if your energy starts to leak out and people wonder what you’re all about— a heartbreaker with an unattached heart – the story of love gives them all start. And me? I’ve always been this way. Not by choice, just this way. I hit with my honey pot in a jar.”
“See if the ice will melt for you.” It’s not just a challenge, but almost a scientific experiment. Can you actually melt her heart despite trying to melt her own? The themes of hearts and ordinary ones run rampant. Oh, but how many have literally lost their lives at this challenge.
In that respect, within our anthem of Lulu, the most honest parts of her turn even darker still with Cheat On Me. A turning point of darkness within – more emotions and revelations that remind me of a person who is involved in self-evaluation, faced with inevitable revelations, unavoidable with age and experience. You can only run so far.
Dragon. “Because waiting for you – thinking of you – is another way of dying.” Holy crap, it doesn’t get more breakdown than this. I don’t care what kind of breakdown it is, but this is an almost lunatic raving… The parts that I believe deal with the assassination of Lulu by the infamous Jack the Ripper. Jack has been referenced plenty throughout, but now he is finally making an appearance.
“The liquid exchange of our hearts. Are we both dead now?! … Your heart on your sleeve. A red star on your sleeve. An idiot’s idiocy.” This is a venture into darkness that is so uncomfortable and frightening, it’s something you run from in dark alleys, schizophrenic rants, abusive late night fathers inside their daughters, sarcastic echoes of self-loathing, massacres, genocide, masochistic failings or ‘a table you can rest your fucking feet on when you’re able’. So to all of the “I am the table!” haters, it’s not just Hetfield ranting like a lunatic – Might all that I am the table biz been a bit of foreshadowing to what Lulu is in self-assessment and to her true partner, Jack the Ripper? “The one who rejects you is the winner.”
Jack, the one most equipped to inflict harm, blood, and the ability to dissect a heart… maybe the only one who can prove to Lulu that she has a heart by actually removing it from her and showing her. Possibly Jack is her counterpart or her antagonist. He seems necessary in that he is the only one who can provide her deliverance through blood (or love).
Dragon is almost too much to bear emotionally in lyrics and musical heaviness.
Thank someone for Junior Dad. Like so many Lou Reed endings, the music is transformative. People morphing larger understandings of their world experience, and the journey was well ridden. Otherwise, there is nothing to receive. Lou Reed is asking us, the audience, to hang in there too… I don’t say this is a happy ending, but it surely seems to allow for understanding, one that allows the strange pain-filled world we’ve traversed so haplessly, to bear fruitful meaning.
“Burning on my forehead, the brain that once was listening, now, shoots out its tiresome message: ‘Scalding, my dead father has the motor and he’s driving toward an island of dead soldiers.’ Sunny. A monkey then to monkey. I will teach you meanness, fear and blindness. No social redeeming kindness or – oh – state of grace. The greatest disappointment…. Age withered him and changed him into Junior Dad.” Meeting your maker, redemption and happy reunions are relative. In the case of Lulu it seems the man who brought her to her beginnings, Bradenburg Gate.
Don’t bother getting to Lulu by skipping tracks,
or lazily blowing over these pieces as backgrounds. Live through this. But don’t expect the payoff if you can’t make the journey.
If Lou and Metallica don’t take this on the road as the stage play it’s meant to be, it will be a tragedy. Unfortunately, I feel Europe will get the best of this show, as the U.S. is frightfully averse to anything that tips the social norm, and might be written off as a loss. I truly hope I am wrong.
Lulu is one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in awhile and it does well to conjure many images, extremely dark and also strangely touching. Many kudos and much respect to Metallica for taking this musical trip. It’s hard to keep up in timing freeform when words and emotions are the only direction makers for the overall project. I hope this collaboration becomes an opener for other bands to make some bold choices. I am still convinced that, like Berlin, Lulu will be revisited and recognized for the musical brilliance and artistic shamelessness it breeds.
Thank you to all who bothered to read this entire commentary. And by now, you may be quite loaded, if you drank the whole time. (I warned you to get some cocktails.)
Addendum to Post: Lou Reed Likes!
After sending my link to Lou Reed in on FB (in 2012), along with a request to please play Lulu in Chicago…. I got a like. Funny to login and see Lou Reed’s name in my notifications history. Love it; thank you, Lou!