Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Reflections on Loutallica
I would like to finally admit that I felt an uncontrollable urge to check out the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration, Lulu. How could someone not be curious about an album widely regarded as the worst album ever?
The Residents' Big Bubble, which I reviewed on Weirdomusic); what's the worst that 2 generations of rock n' roll burn-outs could do? It also seemed somehow unfair that Lulu be publicly judged only by moronic rock critics and youtube trolls that are probably oblivious to the fact that there was ever any other music title Lulu.
I grew up in the Great White North, where Metallica could be heard blasting through many a pair of junior high Walkmen headphones. To hear that familiar bonehead rock supporting the bad drug trip vibe of Lou Reed is truly surreal. With that in mind, the legacy of this album will not be to bring Metallica to the art-rock world, but to bring the wide world of weird to the backwater Metallica demographic. A small town teenager who buys this at Walmart thinking it's another straight up rock record will be severely surprised.
Lou Reed definitely makes Metallica his bee-atch on this one, and they really play their little Napster-hating hearts out for him. Who else could get these sultans of E-string minor-key down-picking to vamp on a major 1-5-4?
The overall vibe of the album is that of a menacing idiot beast being guided by a foul-mouthed little voice it's too dumb to ignore (with Metallica as the beast, and Lou Reed as the voice, if that's unclear). James Hetfield's gawdawful vocal contributions play the dramaturgical role of that bully beast's mouthpiece, reacting like an anime archetypal thug to Lou Reed's endless vitriol. It is undeniably comical to hear him declare that he is a table in "The View" (side note: sometimes riding on the crash cymbal is in such poor taste, it might be right... maybe?)
None of Metallica's own music could be described as a challenge to traditional gender roles or the listener's own masculinity, and in that dichotomy lies the unique charm of this album (in fact, if that part flies over your head, then you will undoubtedly miss the point of it - as must the people who download the torrents of Lulu without Lou Reed's voice). The lyrical content really does a thorough job of recontextualizing the Man-rock of Metallica. A fine example of this is in the song "Frustration," where Lars Ulrich pounds out a meat-headed drum solo while Lou Reed intones," Marry me; I want you as my wife; Spermless like a little girl; More man than I…" That juxtaposition of masculine roles is key to understanding what's actually going on here.
Lou Reed has largely succeeded in creating the repulsive, absurdist, self-abhorrent moods that he must have aimed for. Though his output of the last 25 years or so has been shaky at best, the ubiquity of the Metallica sound, mixed with Lou Reed's impression of Ken Nordine's evil twin reciting Burroughs, makes for a convincingly unsettling listen. Many albums of theatrical music suffer from a lack of context (Meredith Monk's Atlas?), but rarely does that seem to be the case for Robert Wilson collaborators, like Reed, Philip Glass, or Tom Waits.
The WTF factor of Lulu taken as a whole album is staggering. For Lou Reed to coax this level of sonic alienation out of a bland, washed up band like Metallica is a pretty amazing feat (maybe Reed and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo revisited Trujillo's previous band, Suicidal Tendencies).
In his Musical Primer, Lou Harrison paraphrased Henry Cowell as saying, "don't underrate hybrid music, because that's all there really is." The kids that will buy Lulu CD's from dollar bins in 3 years will undoubtedly be creating their own bizarre, tasteless musical hybrids that will further boggle both Susie Vanilla-Consumers and music snobs alike. I can't wait.