Try It At Least Once
by HANSON O'HAVER
"I would cut my legs and tits off/ When I think of Boris Karloff" is how the Lou Reed/Metallica (henceforth: Loutallica) album, Lulu, begins. Immediately it's clear that this album is going to be something of a head scratcher. This is solidified :50 into the song, when Metallica's James Hetfield enters and begins repeatedly singing the words "Small town girl" in his best Nickelback impression.
By the time Lou Reed sings "Me I'm happy/ 'cause I got my little nappy" and you wonder if that's slang or if the aging Mr. Reed is genuinely happy because he got to take a nap (maybe Laurie Andersen plans lots of activities?), you have two choices: put on Loaded (or Kill 'Em All, depending on which band brought you here) or drop the 'hows' and 'whys' and just go with it. If you at all care about interesting music, choose the latter option. Remember that image macro that made the internet rounds a few years ago of the bear surfing on a shark, shooting a gun with the text "Meth: Try It At Least Once"? Loutallica is kind of like that.
Lulu has been called Lou Reed's follow up to Metal Machine Music, his 1975 album composed entirely of four LP sides of guitar feedback. His motives behind Machine — was it a "fuck you" to fans? To critics? His label? — remain unclear, and he doesn't even claim to like it ("If you made it past Side 1, you're stupider than I am"). What's critical is that it was released into a totally different market.
In 1975, a listener could only afford to buy a finite number of records, which meant that they looked to record reviewers (see: Robert Christgau's Consumer's Guide) to tell them what was good (e.g. worth their money). In 2011, music is free; the only investment is the time it takes to listen. Which means: it's less important that an album is good in the long term investment sense (Lulu mostly isn't), and more important that an album is interesting to the point of being worth listening to for however long you choose to listen (Lulu definitely is).
While critics usually talk about how interesting an album is in the text of a review, there's really not a uniform system in place to reflect this in any given score. This is the fundamental problem of music criticism in 2011: How can critics give an album one score that reflects two different criteria? For example: Lulu is both sonically worse and infinitely more interesting than Wilco's latest, the bland but competent The Whole Love. Which gets a better review?
More realistically, Lulu is the follow up to Berlin, his 1973 rock opera filled with drugs and sex and spousal abuse, an album whose depressiveness is only matched by its ambition. It's also a sort of follow up the onstage banter during the live Take No Prisoners version of "Walk on the Wild Side", in which he talks shit on music critics. A key line in a Lulu's second track (and first single), "The View", is "For worship someone who actively despises you", a sentiment that either describes a relationship between the song's characters or critics' relationships with Lou Reed.
"The View" is also the most jarring song on Lulu and inspired numerous jokes, perhaps the best among them being "I didn't know Lou Reed worships his fans." Get it? (Because people hate it.) That "The View" was released as the album's single is proof that either the artists involved in the album have no desire for it to have any sort of success (with fans or critics), or that they have no idea what their fans want. It's also not hard to imagine that Lou Reed knows it will be received terribly and that Metallica doesn't, as evidenced by Lou Reed saying things like (to GQ) "I've loved Metallica since I was a kid."
Artist Seldon Hunt told Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy that Lulu sounds like Woody Allen yelling a joke in your ear at a Limp Bikzkit concert; "The View" sounds like Woody Allen and Limp Bizkit singing a round. Lars Ulrich hits a cymbal for the duration of the song, and it culminates in James Hetfield yelling "I AM THE VIEW I AM THE TABLE I AM THE VIEW I AM THE TABLE I AM ALL THIS I AM THE ROOT THE PROGRESS THE AGGRESSOR I AM THE TABLE I AM THE TEN STORIES I AM THE TABLE I AM I AM I AM I AM I AMMMMMM." It's nutty.
There are things I want to say about every song on Lulu: "Iced Honey" is a genuinely great song. Were it the only Loutallica song, people would be freaking out about how good it is. "Junior Dad" sounds like the title of a long-lost Mr. Show sketch. It's 20 minutes long, and the back half is just a keyboard drone. The second silliest moment on the album comes near the end of the song, when the music gets quiet and Lou says "Get the coffee, turn the lights on/Say hello to junior dad". The silliest moment is at 3:30 during "Pumping Blood", when Lou yells "C'mon James!"
I have thought about Lulu more than almost any other album this year, with the possible exception of Drake's Take Care.
"Mistress Dread" - Lou Reed & Metallica (mp3)
"Iced Honey" - Lou Reed & Metallica (mp3)
"Satellite of Love" - Lou Reed (mp3)