John Peel passed away 7 years ago this week. We as music journalists will never quite match the sheer dedication to eclecticism that Peel embodied, which may or may not be a good thing. He was obsession with an art form made flesh, and possibly the only man to ever be so enamored with sound, and yet treat it like it was no big deal. He was a man who could endorse The White Stripes and Carcass in the same breath, seemingly without blinking. In short, we all still miss you, because you are what makes what we do so special. So, it’s in the spirit of John Peel that I put myself through the wringer for the sake of sound.
I am a professional. Pretty sure I’ve said that one before. When I first heard that Lou Reed and Metallica were releasing an album, I may have been one of the only journalists who was excited by the prospect. It’s Metallica (pretty good) plus Lou Reed (very good), making music together: what’s not to love? But as people started to hear it, I began to hear a word I’ve never actually heard to describe a record: “unlistenable.” I knew people used it, but I had never heard or seen it before, especially not for a mainstream record. Still, I kept my optimism. It seems most writers have decided that the record is a great excuse to stretch that ol’ funny bone. I didn’t know what to expect when I first hit play… and for the first few seconds, it’s not so bad. But one minute into the very first song, and I’m laughing hysterically. “I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Karloff and Kinski / In the dark of the moon,” Lou Reed is singing. My laughter never quite subsides during the length of “Bradenburg Gate,” the very first song on Lulu. My optimism began to dissolve away, very very quickly.
I wasn’t around when Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music was released. I, of course, know how it was interpreted: either as a joke, as a “fuck you” to his label, or as a masterpiece ahead of its time. You don’t ever feel, though, that Lulu is an underappreciated gem when you’re listening. It’s an album that feels more like some kind of punishment for all of your wrongdoings, like a Saw-style trap that your ears are caught in, and the only way out is to endure for the whole 90-minute duration.
On the surface, the album is exactly what you would expect: Lou Reed-style stream-of-consciousness lyrics, put over Metallica riffs. But it’s so much more than that. The lyrics, if you pay attention (and you cannot avoid them), are easily the worst thing to fall out of the brain of the five-year-old down the street, and at the same time the worst thing to fall out of the brain of your sexually frustrated brother. And lyrics about being “spermless like a girl” are bolstered by the worst possible production since Metallica’s St. Anger. But, even then, this would be a bad record if only for those things. The worst parts are when James Hetfield starts singing at the same time. You start to feel like you have to give up when Hetfield starts screaming “I AM THE TABLE!” on “The View,” but you look to see how much you have left. You then discover you still have an hour and seventeen minutes left.
It’s possible that Lulu wouldn’t be that bad if the lyrics on “The View” were the worst on the record. But, sadly, they get worse. For that hour-and-seventeen-minutes, you have to listen to Lou Reed sing about “The taste of your vulva and everything on it” on “Dragon,” and as us, “If I waggle my ass like a dark prostitute, would you think less of me?” The list of crimes against language go on and on. At one point, he sing-speaks the line “You think I’m a book or a table You can rest your fuckin’ feet on.” He also sings the phrase “Kotex jukebox.” I could write about the mediocrity of “Little Dog” alone, in which contains the following stanza:
“If you got the money you can go to the top
The female dog don’t care what you got
As long as you can raise that
Little doggie face to a cold hearted pussy
You could have a taste”
The record culminates in the power-balladeering of “Junior Dad,” an ode to god-knows-what (parenting, I guess), which actually has the most straightforward lyrics so far. Were the song five minutes long, this would be the most tolerable song on Lulu. But it is not five minutes long. It’s 20 minutes long. Most of which is just instrumental. And yet, somehow, with a good chunk of that song being outside the same realms of the rest of the record. And then… it just ends.
It’s hard to write about an album like Lulu from a professional standpoint. It’s an album that sounds like the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator, fronted by a former musical demigod delivering the worst lyrics he’s ever written, set to the worst technical work Metallica has ever produced. It’s an album that wholly obliterates the desire to look at the record from a professional perspective, and begs you to just hit it as hard as you can. I sincerely wanted to consider this record mediocre and call it a day. But then I sat through an hour-and-a-half of it. Lulu is the most disappointing thing ever produced by two artists who know full well how to create masterworks, making it an object of pitiful loathing. I desperately hope the musicians and sound engineers responsible for this record come forth and admit that it is the craziest prank to fall out of Lou Reed’s crazy skull. Otherwise, Lulu will forever be remembered as an album that saw the true fall of genius musicians.
To make things short, Lulu is an album that packs all of the enjoyment of passing a kidney stone, and having terminal colon cancer, combined. I would say “pardon the hyperbole,” but I fail to see where the hyperbole is in that sentence. Thank you.