Music Reviews 2011 – Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu
Lulu is a small town girl. She apparently caused Lou Reed enormous emotional pain. He wanted to marry her; he wanted to beat her. She cheated on him. Such is the torment that drives the new Lulu album, the product of the unlikely pairing of Lou Reed and Metallica. Lulu was released November 1st. The result of which is nothing less than an epic digital firestorm. The conveniences of modern digital media have enabled their former fans to immediately announce their disdain. What’s the fuss? You say. Well, here is my attempt to sort it all out for you.
Leave it to Metallica to be right in the middle of another firestorm. From Napster, to i-Tunes, to collaborating with Lou Reed, firestorms are their “bread and butter.” They are known for causing controversy–or at least being at the center of it and then digging in and holding their ground against a torrent in the opposite direction. This time, after a few days of consideration, I’d say they don’t deserve the grief. They should dig in and hold their ground. Given their history, I’m betting they will.
Lou Reed is forever known as the artist who brought us “Walk on the Wild Side.” He was also the guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter for the Velvet Underground. He is a talk-singing, narrative vocalist, and performance artist from way back. It’s what he does.
San Francisco’s own Metallica, consisting of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Robert Trujillo, are the Kings of the Metal world. They are the most well-known and most successful metal band ever. Of course, fans of Metallica wouldn’t always concede that point. They can be a selective, critical and vocally petty bunch. They sound off when the band takes a direction they don’t approve of. Many of them are doing that right now.
Pairing Lou Reed and Metallica together is like pairing peanut butter and pickles. It ought not work. Art Rock and Heavy Metal don’t often intersect. But, it is true that both Reed and Metallica’s subject matter over the years have consistently included “Dark” themes. Dark personal subject matter brings out the angst, intensity and conviction necessary for them to be successfully invested in their craft. Angst + intensity + conviction + investment = Metallica still going strong after 30 years. And Lou Reed is brilliant for collaborating with them. I believe history will bear this out.
Lou Reed and Metallica isn’t supposed to work. And to much of the Metallica-loving world, it doesn’t. These disappointed, under-consulted, raucous relics of Metallica fan-dom past are writing up a storm on i-Tunes, with 56 pages (at last look) of reviews over the few days since it’s release. That represents hundreds of people who wanted to like this album but didn’t. Almost all of the reviews are negative. They are so passionate in their displeasure that the reviews are mostly comical. Seriously, I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.
Of course, many of those who have trashed the album, also confessed that the only part of it they’d heard was the 90-second i-Tunes previews. They hated those excerpts SO MUCH that they refused to buy the album, but opted to exercise their right to “pupu” it. They even suggested that you and I do the same. Imagine having that kind of audacity. I don’t know this product, but I hate this product. I recommend you hate it too! Oh, and tell your friends to hate it too. And with modern digital conveniences, that prospect is now easier than ever. Hey look, hating Lou Reed and Metallica is trending right now.
The more of these dead-pan reviews I read, the more I laughed. Even some of the “most favorable” reviews were negative. One guy gave them 5 stars as “The Comedy Album of the Year.” Another said, “they should make another album”–as if to suggest that they throw Lulu away and start over. Another called it “Possibly the Worst Album of All Time,” suggesting it sounded like “a drunken old man wandered into a Metallica rehearsal and started rambling incoherently into a microphone.” Another fan said he’d “rather listen to a William Shatner album.” I’m quite certain that, if the first three comments didn’t grab you, that this last review would put the level of fan disdain into an appropriate perspective. Nobody likes Shatner’s music. Can you name anyone who does? He’s got Mad Cow. Right?
Most of the reviews weren’t mean-spirited. But, collectively, they indicate a disturbing trend in our modern “give-it-to-me-now” digital society. Text me, tweet me, like me….but don’t bother me to actually listen to an album and give it a chance before I “pupu” it. Lets just jump straight to the “pupu’ing” part. That is the world we now live in.
That clearly isn’t the world that Lou Reed and Metallica live in. They live in a world where they’ve earned the right to perform how they want, when they want, with whomever they want. Metallica has written off hard-headed, narrow-minded fans long ago. The band does what THEY want. They play music that they believe is true to them. If people like it, great. If not, so what? They are still Metallica. They’ve got everything they’ll ever need. And trust me, they will have the last laugh.
As a mainstream Metallica era fan (part of the group of fans who came to the band after the epic 1991 self-titled Metallica release), I am familiar with the disdain of the pre-mainstream era fans. To them, I only came to the band after they’d sold out. James Hetfield sings (more like growls) a ballad and bam, the “Kill Em All” era is over. The mainstream world embraces Enter Sandman, The Unforgiven, and Nothing Else Matters and one era ends, while another begins. The newer one including a much broader fan-base for Metallica, with a bunch of new fans who are beneath the original, hard-core fans.
I was one of millions who embraced the newly melodic version of the band. To the earlier era fans, Metallica was softening up, going in the wrong direction. For me, they were the heaviest band I listened to; they’d moved just enough in my direction for me to embrace them long-term. To Metallica, I say, thank’s for “selling out.” To me it isn’t a sell-out, if you make music that others enjoy. And if record sales are the key metric, 1991’s Metallica was certainly their high point–regardless of what purist, earlier-era fans thought. That record, enabled them to do whatever they wanted for the rest of their lives.
On the success of 1991’s Metallica, I was a fan for good. The degree to which I enjoyed that album ensured that I would buy every album hence. They’ve all worked for me. I liked 1996’s Load when so-called fans panned it. I liked 1997’s Reload. I liked 1999’s S&M, when they played with the San Francisco Orchestra–purist fans hated that. And I probably loved 1998’s Garage Inc. more than any of them, where they covered other band’s songs. Some may remember when they did Seger, Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult covers. I loved Astronomy, Breadfan and Mercyful Fate. They interpreted and they jammed. Metallica was growing their craft along the way. Fans had to keep up. Some weren’t up to the task. They wanted the Metallica of old.
Metallica grew in directions that made sense to them. Yet, each new record, including 2003’s St Anger and 2008’s Death Magnetic got even more visceral criticism–for ostensibly deviating from the original Metallica formula. So-called fans criticized these records, and they were with Metallica just being themselves. It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us that now, as Metallica moves out in another direction, involving Lou Reed doing beat-like poetry set to their music, that these purist fans are going to be disappointed. Throw in the digital era and the fans’ rage can really take flight–in all its comedic splendor.
Metallica has endured and succeeded, despite pissing off some fans with each album. They made records that reflected their interests, influences and experiences at that particular time. Consequently, Metallica couldn’t make a “Kill ‘Em All” record right now if they tried. Likewise, they couldn’t have done Lulu 25 years ago either. They had to do each record and endure each phase as it came, working through every crisis, addiction, death, and band shake-up to finally get to Lou Reed and Lulu. And they’ve earned the the right to do whatever they want, whether you or I like it or not.
Despite my record of liking each Metallica album since 1991, I didn’t buy Lulu right when it was released. I knew it was coming out and intended to get it the day it became available. But, I too was swayed by the reviews–and the (90-second) song previews. At first introduction, I found the Lou Reed talk-vocals slightly off-putting. As a consequence, I held off on buying Lulu for two days. Until I finally read a few reviews by some kindred spirit reviewers. They hit enough of the nail’s head to focus my attention. So, I re-listened to a few of the previews. This time I heard enough of the Metallica I knew and loved in these songs to buy the record.
And now, several listens later, I am completely sold. Lulu works. But you can’t apply pre-conceived notions or prejudices going in. You have to suspend your musical expectations and just listen to the story. It isn’t a Metallica record. It’s a Lou Reed performance art record. It is somewhat like going to a play or the opera—except that instead of an orchestra, you’ve got Metallica. And Metallica still rocks~! Even to Lou Reed’s poetry.
The songs that work best for me are: Pumping Blood, Mistress Dread, Cheat On Me, Frustration, and Junior Dad–the shortest of which comes in at just under 7 minutes long, the longest of which is over 19 minutes. These are not pop songs. This is Lou Reed’s modern opus–his returning moment–with a Metallica soundtrack. It is dark. It is heavy. It is powerful and intense—musically and emotionally.
Some folks aren’t ever going to get it. They don’t like change. They don’t want to go in any new direction and they are going to complain when it happens. Of course! These folks are now out in force. To them, I say “get over yourselves. Put down your smart-phone, put on some headphones and take-in the new Metallica – Lou Reed show.” It is a modern performance art show, with an inspired Metallica Soundtrack. It is the newest, most intriguing, beat poetry/heavy metal music available right now. And, if nothing else, it is polarizing the world. Which side are you on?
Support the Musicians You Like. Enjoy~! JDPF