Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Defense of "Lulu" by Lou Reed and Metallica

It was announced recently that Metallica will be performing at the Grammy's with Chinese pianist, Lang Lang.Quickly, this the heavy metal websites I read all in a tizzy. Then the expected maelstrom of anti-Lulu crap started flowing. I'm just sick of all of this "Lulu" sucks stuff. has been leading charge for a long, long time. It's January, 2014, and that's all I can stand and I can't stands no more!

Well, I'm making my stand here: "Lulu" is a great album.

Over the nearly three years or so since it has been released, I have seen significant amounts of hate for this record. There are significant reasons why people didn't like it. It was different. It was vulgar. It was, for lack of a better word, profane. Metallica didn't write all the songs. James didn't really sing.

Please lend me your time as I go over why you got it wrong if you think Lulu sucks. I've listened to this double record countless times. COUNTLESS times. Did you spin it more than once? Be honest. Did you?

All the fellas.
1) Metallica Played With One Of Their Heroes

How old were you when you first heard Metallica? I think I was the ripe old age of twelve, give or take. At that time, Metallica had already established themselves as the top of the heap in metal.

They had pioneered a new subgenre of metal. They had achieved massive critical, commercial, and any other kind of success you could name, and they were still in their twenties. (This is pre-Black Album of course.)

It's easy for many of us to forget that Metallica's full of old people. James is turning 52 this year! Look back to the late 60's and early 70's, Lou Reed was a big deal back then. Now he's kind of looked on, in the mainstream, as an old guy who used to be relevant. (Before he died and got sainted of course.) His last Top 40 album before this one was in 1989! When Metallica were just lads though, Lou Reed was the shyz-NITE! It would be like me doing an album with Metallica now. Hell yes I'll bring lattes for Bob Rock and be at the Record Plant at 7am to sweep up!

2) Metallica Sounded Great

My biggest pet peeve with Metallica is that they will beat a dead horse for months on end. Metallica records, honestly do not sound that great because of it. St. Anger, their record with their best writing, sounded like utter crap, partially for this reason, (and several more of course). Lulu was recorded in just a couple months, or in about 4 hours by Metallica standards.

Metallica prides themselves on being able to play live and play together, but the record their albums in such a sterile way, that it loses significant amounts of the power. Do you remember that conversation about that woo in Almost Famous? Listen to every Metallica album in a row and you'll never once hear one of those woos. Everything is perfect. Surgical. Sterile.

I'm hoping that this modus operandi will make its way onto the next proper Metallica record. In one of the songs, Lou yells at James to pick it up and it made it ONTO the record. That's just cool. That is old time rock'n'roll right there. Just leave it in, the track sounds great. Let's move into things I know folks don't like about the record now.

3) Lou Reed Sang Like Crap

My first thought is, have you ever heard Lou sing? Lou could not sing in 2011 and he could not sing in the 1960's. Big deal. James couldn't sing when he recorded Kill'Em All either and did you ever hear his Iron Maiden wannabe phase?! Yeah I didn't think so. I also do not care to hear those "No Life Till Leather 2" tracks...

Lou Reed (or the Velvet Underground or even Metallica and John Lee Hooker for that matter) did not make his name on his singing.

Lou Reed was dangerous. Lou Reed was scary. He came up in a time when social conservatism ruled the roost. (Remember over a trumped up charge, the Doors were blacklisted even in my liberal city of St. Louis back in the 60's.) People didn't listen to "Heroin" and say, damn Lou can sing! Same way they didn't listen to Bob Dylan and say that. They had things to say and the message was more important than the delivery.

4) What The Hell Is This Thing About?!

In Metallica's heyday, they sang about some pretty heavy topics: shamed televangelists, corruption in our justice system, abuse in mental institutions, etc. They never sang about prostitutes.

So really what in the bowels of hell is this thing about? A playwright named Frank Wedekind wrote a couple of plays about a femme fatale named Lulu. The "Lulu" plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904) are probably his best known works. Originally conceived as a single play, the two pieces tell a continuous story of a sexually-enticing young dancer who rises in German society through her relationships with wealthy men, but who later falls into poverty and prostitution.[7] The frank depiction of sexuality and violence in these plays, including lesbianism and an encounter with Jack the Ripper (a role which Wedekind played himself in the original production),[8] pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on the stage at the time. Karl Kraus helped Wedekind to also stage in Vienna.[9]

Yes, it's creepy.
Apparently, this subject matter really spoke to Lou Reed. There is a part of me that would actually like to see these groundbreaking plays by this very good, but not bearded, playwright. We must again consider that Lou came of age and into prominence in the 60's when offending the establishment was really where it was at.

So, Lou Reed writes this musical based on the plays of the now deceased Wunderkid and apparently no one wanted to put on this show. After Lou and Metallica perform on stage together, they decide that if they're ever going to write music together, now is the time, because we all knew Lou was not getting any  younger. So they start with Lou's lyrics and made a rollicking record that sounds nothing like anything Metallica and Lou have ever done, much less anyone else in heavy metal.

He's not the angry young man he once was.
5) If James Isn't Singing, It's Not Metallica!

Bingo! Boingo! Put it in the basket. This is not a Metallica album. This is not a Lou Reed album. Fans of Metallica  have grown to love James's voice and guitar work. Though, I cannot imagine fans of Lou Reed, the elder guard anyway, picking up Lulu and thinking, wow, Lou's much better now that he's got a balls out metal backing band!

Years ago, before Metallica became the Metallica we know now, James was going to give up singing to John Bush of Armored Saint and later Anthrax in order to focus on his guitar playing.

Now, thirty plus years later, James Hetfield is one of the best frontmen in heavy metal, but  he allowed Lou Reed the singing spot and only did spot back ups. Could you picture say, Bruce Dickinson, Glen Benton, or Dave Mustaine giving up their spot singing for someone else on a record?

Metallica's always been a very brave band and they have never gone along with the crowd, save St. Anger, or did what they were expected to do or many times what the fans wanted them to do. I get so tired of hearing people say that Metallica should make Master of Puppets again. It was a great record no doubt, as are most of Metallica's records, but there's no reason to do it again. Leave it to bands like Slayer and AC/DC to keep repeating themselves over and over. Kirk said before it came out, this isn't a 100% Metallica record...and that was a very conservative estimate!

Try listening to Lulu again, but this time clear your mind of The Velvet Underground and Master of Puppets. Listen to this track first....

Remember, this isn't Metallica. It's a whole other thing.

And after you've digested that track...check this out....

Listen to the fatness of the guitars. The perverseness of the lyrics. Immerse yourself in the story.

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