It’s about time someone who has actually LISTENED to the new album by Lou Reed & Metallica, “Lulu”, wrote a review. I’ve now had the opportunity to listen to it a few times and I’m blown away by it’s power and majesty.
First – some background and a disclaimer.
The disclaimer is that I’ve been a Lou Reed fanboy for most of my life. While his track record certainly has a few missteps (and who doesn’t?), mostly during the late 70’s and early 80s, I’d argue that his body of work is, on the whole, brilliant. He’s up there with Dylan, Cohen and Neil Young as one of the true masters of adult contemporary rock. In particular, Reed has always tried to push the boundaries of rock as a literary medium for adults. Never content to write typical rock songs about getting laid and falling in love (although there are lots of songs containing sex and love in his catalogue), Reed has always (IMHO) tried to mine the human experience for subjects worth of serious art. The 3 minute rock song is his canvas. The rock album is his exhibition of songs, often around a theme.
“Lulu” follows in this tradition.
Now for the background. Not about Reed’s music but about Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” plays. Wedekind was a German playwright who died in 1918. His work was considered extremely controversial during his lifetime but laid the groundwork for Expressionism and “epic theatre” and also provided the basis for one of the greatest silent films (Pabst’s 1929 “Pandora’s Box”) and operas (Berg’s 1937 “Lulu”) in history. In certain ways, Wedekind also could be said to (directly or indirectly) have influenced Reed’s own music and, as a result, influenced rock and roll via Reed’s Velvet Underground, one of the most influential bands in the ’60s. Wedekind’s discussion of topics such sex, suicide, abortion and prostitution in his plays were as dangerous in his day as Reed’s topics of heroin and S&M were in his V.U. songs fifty years later.
Both Wedekind and Reed are artists who dig deeply into the darkness and pain of our lives in order to find material for their art. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that most people shirk from the product. The general public is too busy watching scripted “reality” shows to recognise the truth of their lives when presented with it unvarnished. Their taste in music has been dumbed-down to such an extent over the last twenty years of corporock that they have the equivalent of a five-year old child’s appreciation of nuance and sinew.
Wedekind wrote two plays about “Lulu” – Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1904). They were influenced by the life of dancer Lou Salome (“Lulu, The Clown Dancer”), who seduced everyone from Neitzsche to Freud. Wedekind’s advances to Salome were turned down, so instead he worshipped and destroyed her in his plays.
In the two plays, Lulu climbs her way to the top of society through sexual manipulation (after being sexually used from the age of seven). Her various husbands die of heart attacks, have their throats slit, or get shot. At the end of the story, her abusive father reappears, dragging Lulu back into incest and the life of a street whore in London.
Not your usual rock album, then.
The first track, Brandenburg Gate, starts with acoustic guitar and Lou’s gentle vocals:
I would cut my legs and tits off
When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski
In the dark of the moon.
Enter Sandman. Sorry, I mean enter Metallica. About 50 seconds into the first track, the masters of metal bring their bone crunch and thereby provide the story with an intensity and throbbing that reflects Lulu’s passion for life.
Over the rest of the tracks, Lou’s vocals waver and buckle under the sexual passion, betrayal and murder of Lulu’s lovers. Metallica keep up the bashing wall of sound, with the occasional waves of strings and synth lulling us into a slumbering death (such as in the final track, the 19′ 29″ second “Junior Dad”). The tracks are brutal, painful, perverse and violent. Lou’s voice contorts, rasps, pleads and taunts. Metallica just crushes everything in their path.
Like Reed’s 1973 album “Berlin”, which was originally panned universally by critics and is today lauded as a masterpiece, I suspect “Lulu” is 40 years ahead of it’s time. People will flock to this only after the 99% Movement has killed off the corporocracy and it’s bastard child corporock and we have re-grown our ability to listen to music.
This is an album that demands headphones and darkness. Turn off your iPads, get a glass of single malt and a cigar, put this bitch on and surrender. Think of it as a play or an opera. Go on Lulu’s journey. Give in to the pain.
You won’t be disappointed. But it’s not for pussies.