Updated Wed, Mar 14, 2012 3:23 pm
It's almost certainly a mark of my own perversity, but after listening to it two or three times, Lulu, the new album that answers the question no one was asking (what would happen if Lou Reed and Metallica got together?), has quickly reached the point of fascination for me.
It seems to be reviled as a howler in just about all quarters. But then we've always laughed at Lou, haven't we? I think Take No Prisoners is the funniest live rock album ever, especially when Lou's letting himself go on the subject of his critics: "These are the ***holes who make or break the best rock bands that are very heavy and intelligent," he said.
Heavy and intelligent: maybe some intimation there that makes sense of this collaboration with Metallica, but I think another of Lou's remarks is a truer harbinger: "I never said I was tasteful. I'm not tasteful."
When he wasn't making jokes (and even sometimes when he was), Lou was giving us records as rich as any novel: all of the Velvet Underground albums, The Blue Mask, New York, Magic and Loss, etc. Sometimes he did it in one song, like "Street Hassle."
Don't get me wrong, there is some stuff on Lulu that I never need to hear again ("Little Dog" springs to mind). Maybe it's as awful as everybody says. Maybe I'll play it a few more times and then never again. But for now, it's everything I could have wanted from a Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration.
It's got what Lou lovers want in a Lou album: the passion, the perversity, the personal. It's also a brutally-honest look at his own frailties and faults. Not just for the purpose of self-laceration, but to learn to embrace them, love them and to love himself.
As for Metallica, one thing I've long dug about them is their musical curiosity, the way they get off on other types of music besides metal. They've been spotted at Springsteen concerts and have even listened to the Beatles (James Hetfield was impressed with "(I Want You) She's So Heavy").
A lot of Metallica fans, at least the ones who moan on the internet, seem to hate this very tendency in them. I've seen some Lou fans crying online as well, though not as many. Puritanism of whatever stripe is deeply anti-rock & roll, not to mention a drag.
So what perspective do I bring to Lulu? Lou Reed is amongst the handful of singers to whom I relate the most; right there with Dylan, Elvis Costello, Springsteen, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. He's angry, tough, abrasive and funny. And while I haven't kept up with Metallica for at least a decade, there was a time when they were a fave rave.
So I was happy to hear on Lulu that Metallica's crunch still satisfies with Hetfield's teeth-baring vocals and Lars Ulrich's pounding, precise drums. Lou has always gotten off on guitars and he's always made it a point to play with hot guitarists.
Kirk Hammet certainly fits the bill, though the three guitars on Lulu (Lou, Hetfield and Hammet) mesh more than they solo, painting sonic textures while bassist Robert Trujillo drops depth charges. They're really playing as a group here, with Lou as bandleader. As for Lou's vocals, he sounds younger, more tender and vulnerable than he has in years, sometimes even sounding like he did with the Velvets.
As fun and mad as the thrashers are, they're not the best things here. Lulu's capper is a gentle song called "Junior Dad" that ends with a gorgeous extended coda of guitar washes that sound like cellos and violins. As much as he's known for limning the limits of loathing and the contours of contempt, the secret of Lou Reed's music is that it's really about love. It always has been.
It's also about the redemptive power of love in this world. I get the same feeling listening to "Junior Dad" as I do from Lou's 1975 song "Coney Island Baby:"
"When you're all alone and lonely in your midnight hour/and you find that your soul it's been up for sale/well, remember the princess who lived on the hill/who loved you even though she knew you was wrong."
And then the lines that cut to the heart of it, of what it's always been about:
"And the glory of love, the glory of love might see you through."
Born in Athens, Ohio, Scott Pfeiffer has lived in Chicago since 1993. He did a minor in film at Ohio University back in the day. These days, he knocks about Chi-town, taking in film, music and theater. Read his other music and film reviews at The Moving World.