Review Summary: Deftly leaps from intimacy to grandeur, from joy to heart-wrenching sadness and across the full emotional spectrum while maintaining a stylistic and thematic unity.
Some musical pairings are made in heaven. Lennon/McCartney… Simon & Garfunkel… Lou Reed and Metallica. Where have they been each other lives? The obvious answer would be in two different highly successful bands, but let's not be so literal here. The truth is they have always been together, their souls inextricably linked and on a crash course to make the jewel that is this album. Lulu
is nothing short of a fulfillment of destiny- the sort of raging, alchemical union that takes place only when Orion and Venus are in proper alignment; the sort of yin/yang duality contemplated by Buddhist monks as they meditate high up in the Himalayan Mountains. This is not a record you merely listen to, but one you behold, like manna from the heavens; like a fine wine you swish around in mouth. But not all are so taken to it. Many YouTube videos of Lulu
have twice, nay even thrice as many dislikes as likes. This is a truly puzzling phenomenon. Did Dave Mustaine create thousands of accounts? Did throngs of Justin Bieber fans somehow stumble upon Lulu? Were the haters so in awe that they accidentally hit the "dislike" button, or perhaps misread it as "dis I like"? We may never know, but whoever these people are, they're missing out.
With the rampant criticism being leveled at this project, I find myself asking: why
is this collaboration surprising? An odd collaboration would be, say, Metallica and Ja Rule, or Metallica and Kid Rock. This
is a natural collaboration; two giants of music doing what they do best and creating some kickass jams. Lou Reed even had the following to say about Lulu:
"This is the best thing I ever did, and I did it with the best group I could possibly find on the planet. By definition, everybody involved was honest. This has come into the world pure. We pushed as far as we possibly could within the realms of reality."
So forget about the banana album or collaboration with that hack David Bowie- this is where it's at. You heard the man. Why wouldn't you trust him? Does he look unsure to you? Some accuse this great man of being unemotional, nay robotic sounding. "He doesn't sing! He just speaks!"
cry the detractors. "Anyone could do that!"
cry the detractors. "He sounds like my grandpa rambling over a Metallica track!"
cry the detractors. Peons. Every last one of them. What they fail to comprehend is that long ago, Lou realized the futility of human emotion and became an ascetic of sorts, eschewing such worldly pleasures as singing, music, sex, and drugs in favor of a more spiritual existence. He thrives on basking in the coldness of things, as absurd as an Eskimo sunbather, not experiencing pain but wallowing in its distant, glacial beauty. "I have no real feelings in my soul/Where most have passion I have a hole,"
state Reed's brilliantly uncompromising, harrowing, lyrics.
Equally spiritual is the table himself, Mr. James Hetfield. Now when he speaks of himself as the table, he's not speaking of something that has a high probability of being smashed in Metallica's hotel room. He's speaking of himself as a metaphorical foundation; the bedrock upon which all heavy music is laid, the titan cradling metal upon his back like the Atlas of ancient lore. If metal was to be the food pyramid, James Hetfield would be carbon; he's virtually synonymous with the genre, so therefore to disrespect James is to disrespect metal itself. It's tantamount to blasphemy. This goes without saying that he's not the first rock frontman to make such a cryptic proclamation. "I am the eggman. I am the walrus."
-John Lennon Enjoy your double standard, haters.
As W.B. Years once posited, "Sex and death are the only subjects seriously interesting to an adult."
There's plenty of sex and death on Lulu
, and therefore, it is an interesting album. Just look at these lyrics:
The hair on your shoulders
The smell of your armpit
The taste of your vulva and everything on it ….
I’m clawing your chest
‘Til your collarbone bleeds
Piercing your nipples ‘til I bite them off
I scratch your face and bite your shoulders
Way above caring
Way above caring
And your Kotex jukebox
Your Kotex jukebox
I wish there was a strap of blood
That you could kiss away
Tie me with a scarf and jewels
Put a bloody gag to my teeth
I beg you to degrade me
Is there waste that I could eat
I am a secret lover
I am your little girl
Please spit into my mouth
I’m forever in your swirl
You’re heartless and I love that
You have no use of me
But I open the sticks, sticky legs I bear
And then insert a fist, an arm
Some lost appendage
Please open me I beg
Waggle my ass like a dark prostitute
Would you top me off
Would you top me off
As deepen a curtsy
While you yell out, “mercy”
We grow apart
Would you rip and cut me
Use a knife on me
Be shocked at the boldness
The coldness of this little heart
Tied up in leather
Would you take the measure
Of the blood that I pump
In the manic confusion of love
“Oh, ah, ah, ah Jack I beseech you”
“Oh Jack I beseech you”
Blood in the foyer
The tea room
The kitchen, with her knives splayed
I will swallow your sharpest cutter
Like a colored man’s dick
Blood spurting from me
If lyrics like this don't get your blood pumping, nothing will. You're probably dead inside. Lou's performance on "Junior Dad" even brought members of Metallica to tears. Now these are tough guys, mind you, capable of destroying almost anything in their path. Just look at what happened to Dave Mustaine and Napster. These are clearly guys you don't want to mess with, and still, Lou brought them to tears. This proves indubitably that Lou is a true poet, a wordsmith on par with such luminaries as Selby, Poe, Burroughs, Inge, and Tennessee Williams. But what's perhaps more remarkable is his uncanny ability to marry the gutter and the stars, to fuse trash and majesty into a beautifully conflicted space where grime gives way to something more gorgeous, more expressive, and as a result, something much more eye-opening. Understandably, this might instill some confusion in the listener. How should
the listener feel after hearing Lulu
, with its graphic lyrics of jealousy, lust, violence and revenge, its grinding riffs and tantalizing tones? Is it a journey into the heart of darkness? "I wouldn't call it the heart of darkness",
muses Reed. "I'd call it the heart of illumination."
It is indeed a powerful journey, guaranteed to purge your soul and possibly several other parts of your body.
Inspired by German expressionist Frank Wedekind's early 20th century plays Earth Spirit
and Pandora's Box
(much admired by Freud), Lulu
centers around an inverted-Eve-like cipher-mirror of desire and abuse, and the people who fall desperately in love with her. The album begins on an elegant note with Brandenburg Gate
, as a majestic acoustic guitar intro segues into a riff every bit as monolithic as the gate itself. Here, our protagonist is characterized as a pretty face, and a "small town girl just givin' it a whirl."
Unfortunately, that whirl incorporates opium, absinthe, and prostitution, for Lulu harbors many secrets, you see. In fact, the person playing this attractive young woman is a 69 year old man with a gruff voice and face like a hatchet. This may ruin the mood for some, but try and remember that this is music, and image is therefore irrelevant.
Next comes The View
. You've heard it. You've read the Blabbermouth comments. You've let the lyrics simmer around in your subconsciousness. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it instrumentally good but lyrically bad? No, you hack! It's all-around amazing. I don't know what it's about, but that Hetfield growl sure gets me every time. Imagine if Metallica became a death metal band. This seemed like an awesome thought at first, but I think that genre's a poor fit for them, seeing as their guitars have too many mids and their bass is simply too audible. Which reminds me, ROBERT FUCKlNG TRUJILLO. Who the hell do you think you are playing bass that audibly in a metal band? Your instrument should be felt, and not heard in this style of music. Shame on you. Of course, you do have Steve Harris, but he's a bit of an exception in that treats the bass more like a low-tuned guitar.
Anyway, onto Pumping Blood
. Here, Lou and the boys show their avant-garde side with a peculiar string intro and some polyrhythmic kick drum, courtesy of the great Lars Ulrich. Even though the Lulu
drum sound is less beefy than that of St. Anger
and Death Magnetic
, Pumping Blood is still a great showcase for his drumming, as the middle section shows him pounding away with the trademark delicacy that only he can pull off. But Lars far from upstages the star of the show, Lou Reed, who goes so far as to fake an orgasm 5 minutes into the song. Eat your heart out, Meg Ryan. This is how it's really done. But with music this wonderful, who's to say he was faking?
The sumptuous tenor of Pumping Blood continues into the frenzied thrash of Mistress Dread
, and the mid-tempo rocker Iced Honey
, which evokes such classics as "Hey Jude" with its outro chant of "see if the ice will melt for you."
This song wins additional brownie points for making my stomach growl, with its references to jam, and charbroiled lamb, and what not. I've never tried icing honey. It has a hard enough time coming out of the bottle at room temperature so I shutter to think what would happen if I stuck it in the freezer. Does this hint at a veiled, cryptic meaning for this song? Is it about honey that can't squirt out of the bottle, so to speak? Or does "iced" mean "laced with alcohol"? Either way, it's a cool song in my book. Some would say that Lou's vocals are "pitchy," or out-of-tune, but I say that music is just out-of-tune with Lou Reed, which is beside the fact that being in-tune is overrated to begin with. I mean, it's downright refreshing to hear such a complete disregard for proper pitch, what with all the autotuned crap on the radio nowadays. Maybe Lil Wayne and company should start taking cues from Lou Reed because hip hop's overwhelming concern for melody is totally stifling the genre, imo.
The string quartet returns in full force on the sprawling epic/tear jerker Cheat On Me
. "Why do you cheat on me? Why do I cheat on me? Why do I cheat on thee? Why do I desecrate me? Why do I piss my dreams?"
probes Lou Reed, as only he can. I hate to play the devil's advocate, but could it be because you're so damn inquisitive, Lou? Asking too many questions is never a good thing in a relationship, and this is perhaps Lulu's fatal flaw. She strives to be a critical thinker, but is too mesmerized by the seductive spell of love to think rationally. Love is after all, not rational, and as Reed states on The View, "there's no time for second guessing, second guessing, based on feel-ing."
We see this cognitive dissidence reach a boiling point on Frustration
, in which Lulu begins to objectively analyze her lovelife. Perhaps no song better encapsulates the feeling of frustration than this one. With its start-and-stop drum fills, jarring ambient noises, and churning riffs, I was almost too frustrated to listen. If you've been following the story up to this point, Lulu has just come face to face with Jack The Ripper. Being raped and mutilated is pretty frustrating. It happened to me once and I was pretty miffed, but I walked it off.
The haunting acoustic number Little Dog
concerns Lulu's ultimate consignation to being a servant of men, "a disposable object one ***s with,"
whilst the leering Dragon
contains the startling revelation that her lovers are as dead as she. The latter number is a true highlight of the album, featuring Reed's impassioned vocals over a backdrop of distorted and manipulated guitars. I have to hand it to Kirk Hammett for being such as boss with his effects pedals, especially that wah. He could have had a promising career in porno music with those wah skills, but he's far too benevolent to engage in the graphic exploitation of women like that. God bless him.
And now, the moment you've been waiting for. Drum roll please. The song that made Metallica cry, the song that will make you cry, Junior Dad
. This is the kind of lush, atmospheric piece that Robert Smith wishes he could right. In fact, if you own Disintegration
, just throw it out and replace it with Junior Dad. You'll want to break out the tissues for this one. Perhaps the most touching thing about this song is that in spite of all the tar, ash, nicotine and miscellaneous substances coating Lou Reed's vocal cords, he actually tries singing. For years, there's been great debate and conjecture as to whether or not he could do this. Some claim to have witnessed it, while others claim the melodic aspect of his voice to be an urban legend in the vein of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A field of study known as "Cryptolouology" has even arisen, scouring the massive annals of his work for any discernible trace of melody. Make no mistake about it, Lou can croon with the best of 'em, and croon he does on "Junior Dad," until his tender melodies give way to a droning wash of strings that dissipates like the faint echoes of a dying universe.
It will take several listens to realize what's been done here. When you realize the sheer scope of this album, your jaw, nay your body, will hit the floor. Even if you're a small-minded plebeian who fails to comprehend Lulu
, you have to applaud Metallica for trying something new. A multitude of classic bands are content to rest on their collective laurels. Royalties roll in, merchandise moves along and nothing fresh is expected from them creatively, anyway. They tour haphazardly and sometimes shamelessly on the nostalgic fumes of faded glories. Hit albums are continuously reformatted and regurgitated. They’ve made it. Why work harder? Metallica stand proudly and defiantly against that career model. Thirty years after their formation, the heavy metal institution ignites anew with Lulu
, a brave, adventurous, diverse and often experimental album that will challenge their fiercely intelligent audience and rock n’ roll critics alike in profound and exceedingly rewarding ways. There is nothing safe, saccharine or sanitized about Metallica’s tenth studio album. No rules. No boundaries. It’s the latest in a string of impressive feats from the legendary Los Angeles band. Metallica could easily sit back and count their achievements. They went triple-platinum with the mind numbingly awesome Kill 'Em All
. They cracked the Top Ten with the enduring power ballad “Nothing Else Matters.” Master Of Puppets
redefined the concept album. They’ve sold over 200 million albums. Lulu
is the sound of Metallica marching forward artistically, philosophically and sonically. Their commitment to their craft is unwavering. Their ability to challenge themselves and create new soundscapes is unparalleled in hard rock. In an era when bands will sacrifice audio quality to crank out records, Lulu
is a true “headphones record.”
In tandem with the great French seer Nostradamus, Mayan astronomers predicted that an event of cosmic proportions would take place on December 21, 2012. Turns out they got the date wrong. It should actually be October 31, 2011, the day the monolith known as Lulu
split the galaxy wide open. So forget about your other records; this is the only one you'll need for millennia to come. I say that because this album is so vast, so immersive, listening to it in its entirety truly feels like millennia.