Sunday, October 09, 2011


The steady trickle of information about Lulu, the collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, is kind of wondrous to behold. Stanley Crouch once quoted Nietzsche on Wagner in describing Miles Davis's electric period as "the greatest example of self-violation in the history of art." I think we have a new trophy contender.

I confess a bias. I have never liked Lou Reed's music very much. I have tried, many times, to like it, but it has never sunk in with me. I bought The Velvet Underground & Nico on vinyl when I was in high school, and listened to it over and over. There were one or two songs I sort of liked - "I'm Waiting for the Man" had a piano part that stuck in my head, and "Run Run Run" was sort of catchy. But the bulk of it was, to my ear, extremely poorly played attempts at rock, and little more. The band seemed to be stumbling all over itself just trying to get through the songs, and nobody involved could sing worth a shit. Reed just seemed to be reciting the lyrics, as though they wanted to get rough versions down on tape which they would then provide to the real singer, once he or she turned up.

I have listened to several other Reed and/or Velvet Underground albums over the years: Loaded, White Light/White Heat, Rock 'n' Roll Animal, Lou Reed Live, The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, New York, The Raven, Metal Machine Music, and Songs for Drella - oh, and the old RCA Walk On the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed compilation - have all lived in my house at one time or another. Out of all those records, exactly four songs have actually, really worked for me:

"Waves of Fear," from The Blue Mask;
"Nowhere At All," from Walk On the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed;
"Sweet Jane," from Rock 'n' Roll Animal;
"Strawman," from New York.

So no, I am not a fan. And in fact I bear Reed a kind of animus at this point, because as a music critic, I pay attention to artists other critics tell me I should care about, and Lou Reed is fucking worshipped by critics. He invented punk; he's some kind of genius of the electric guitar; his lyrics cut through the flesh and bone to the beating heart of contemporary human existence...blah blah blah. If it wasn't for all the rapturous reviews over the years, I would have given up trying to like Lou Reed years before I did.

With this in mind, I have thoughts about Lulu. Based on the one song I've heard, "The View," I think it's going to be a staggeringly bad album. Reed sounds cranky, tired, and old; Metallica sound like a band recruited to accompany him, like one of the local outfits hired to back Chuck Berry in whatever town he's playing that night. I don't know James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo or Lars Ulrich. I don't know if they're lifelong Lou Reed fans, or if they're just there because he asked them to be there and they were too intimidated to say no, just like for years I was too intimidated by the reputations of the critics praising Lou Reed to say no, this album (whichever one I was being told to love at the time) is boring, lazy bullshit. But what they're playing behind Reed on "The View" has none of the power of their own most recent studio album, Death Magnetic.

Metallica are a great band. By making this kind of ham-fisted doom-thrash as Lou Reed mutters and shouts (and the song is mixed in such a way that it sounds like he's reciting the lyrics over a tape of the band he's playing on a boombox), they are throwing away their reputation as songwriters, as riff craftsmen...for what? For the chance to have their names next to Lou Reed's on an album cover? They don't need him. The worst-selling Metallica studio album has likely outsold every Lou Reed and/or Velvet Underground album put together. All Reed brings to the equation is near-unanimous critical approbation and the prestige that comes with that. But Metallica have critical respect on their own, hard-won through decades of solid work (minus a bad stretch in the '90s and early '00s) and brutal, breathtaking live shows. I genuinely don't know why they took this project on. And I suspect I'll never have the opportunity to ask. But at least I know better than to listen to the thing when it's shat onto store shelves a little over three weeks from now. I've been burned by Lou Reed enough times already.


PiercingMetal KP said...

Having only heard "The View" like most Metal scribes I concur about its dreadfulness and it leaves me wondering how the remaining tracks could improve on the initial perception. It's going to be a tough listen for sure I am thinking. I will give it a chance of course as that is what I have tasked myself to do. I'm still fearful.

Anonymous said...

"they are throwing away their reputation as songwriters"

Phil Freeman said...

Yes, Anonymous, I wrote the eight words you cut and pasted. Do you have a thought you'd like to express?

Sigivald said...

they are throwing away their reputation as songwriters, as riff craftsmen?

Didn't they do that already, in 1991 or so?

I mean, I really wanted to like the Black Album. But I couldn't pretend it was even as good as Justice, which wasn't as good as Puppets.

Everything since then has been a dispiriting footnote.

(That, I think, is something along the lines of what anonymous meant to say by merely quoting.)

(Also, I share your "what's the big deal?" about Lou Reed.

Though the Velvet song I like is Venus in Furs.)

Unknown said...

This sentence right here, Phil: "The worst-selling Metallica studio album has likely outsold every Lou Reed and/or Velvet Underground album put together." Even with your penchant for hyperbole...that is beneath you.

Sigivald said...

Robert - But is it false?

A search suggests not; no Reed album is certified more than Gold (1989's New York), whereas every Metallica studio album is at least double platinum - and the Black Album is a terrifying 15x.

No Velvet Underground record ever even got Silver, as far as I can tell.

As Gold in the US means half a million, and Platinum means a full million, we can estimate that thus St. Anger and Death Magnetic each sold our times as many copies as the best-selling Reed album.

What Phil said is not definitely correct, but it's pretty likely sounding, rather than immense hyperbole.

Reed's "critical" reception is vastly out of proportion to his actual popularity.

Anonymous said...

@Robert well Jazzhermit is really a clueless clown

Unknown said...

Sigivald - I don't deny that it isn't true. I know that it's true. But Phil is outright saying that the music that Metallica made is more important than Lou Reed's simply based on the fact that it sold more copies. By that rationale, that would put all the jazz releases that Phil loves in the same critical dumpster as Lou Reed. It's a terrible terrible statement for any music writer to make. It's beneath him.