Friday, November 11, 2011

In Defense of ‘Lulu’



Some music is hated.

There is music that is bad – meritless, unoriginal, unlistenable claptrap bad – but there exists much bad music that is beloved.

But some music is genuinely hated.

Like this “Lulu” album thing I’ve been reading about. It is a brand spanking new collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica. A concept album, no less. A double-length concept album about self-loathing, self-abuse, and assorted miseries.

For the past month or so, the internet has been abuzz about “Lulu.” “Lulu” is hated. It was hated before anyone’d heard a note of it. It is hated on principle. It is hated viscerally. When somebody gets indigestion or loses the big account at work, they blame “Lulu.” They blame “Lulu,” and then they come back home and they get on Amazon and they kick it in the teeth a few more times.

“Lulu” has transformed negative record reviewing into a full-contact competitive sport.

“Metallica finally found a way to keep people from illegally downloading their music,” someone over here says.

“Lulu is a complete failure on every tangible and intangible level of its existence,” says this review.

“Reed mutter[s] the title over and over as if he was rudely woken up and shoved in front of a live microphone,” says this one over here.

And Pitchfork – oh, dear hipster Pitchfork – says “Lulu” has one too many good moments to be the worst album of all time, thus failing even as a failure.

Yeah, I’ve listened to “Lulu.” I even bought “Lulu.” Paid money for it. Online, of course: There was no way I was going to be seen walking up to a cash register with that thing.

Now, I should tell you, I am a fan of Lou Reed. I have listened to Lou Reed all of my life.

I am a fan of how unlikable he is. How difficult. Inconsistent.

I am a fan of his ugly imagery.

I am even fan of his clunky lyrics. My favorite Lou Reed album ever begins with the line, “Life’s like a mayonnaise soda.” That’s pretty clunky!

But as best as I can discern, when it comes to “Lulu,” the criticism centers around only about four things:
     1.     The awkward mismatch between Lou Reed and Metallica;
     2.     The songs (both lyrics and melodies);
     3.     The musicianship; and
     4.     The vocals.

Other than that, there does not seem to be much trouble with “Lulu,” really. Just those four minor things.

Damn you to Hell, Hal Willner.
Me, I blame Hal Willner. He produced “Lulu.” Hal Willner is a terrible producer. Just awful.

For years now, Hal Willner has produced novelty projects that look great on paper but sound awful in execution.

Like this: The last time Hal Willner produced a Lou Reed album, it turned out to be a concept album about Edgar Allen Poe that included actor Steve Buscemi doing a sleazy lounge act. And it sounds even worse than what you’d imagine.

The typical Hal Willner production uses this sort of reasoning: “Hey! Wouldn’t it be weird if we released an album of Leonard Cohen singing Limp Bizkit songs?”

So Hal Willner projects are bad. They are bad, but they are not normally hated.

Hal Willner projects really ought to be hated. I mean, divine justice and all that jazz…

The thing is, on “Lulu,” Lou Reed himself does okay. I mean, he does as well as can be expected. Maybe even better than can be expected. The guy is one hundred and seventy-four years old. I have seen surprisingly compelling evidence that Lou Reed’s major organ systems dissolved back in 1971. It seems probable that he is a zombie.

But despite that, Lou Reed bolts past the starting gate on “Lulu” in full clunky Lou Reed mode, moaning, “I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff.”

That’s pretty clunky! That’s Lou Reed!

In other places, “Lulu” distinguishes itself as the queasy Beatnik feel-bad album of the season. Like on “Dragon,” where he keeps repeating something about a “Kotex jukebox.” Or on “Pumping Blood,” where he whines, “I will swallow your sharpest cutter / Like a colored man’s dick.”

Oh. Yeah. I forgot to mention before: “Lulu” is mostly sung in first person from the perspective of a woman. Awkward…

I would imagine all this makes “Lulu” look pretty awful to anyone who did not already think “Lulu” was pretty awful. And don’t get me wrong: “Lulu” is pretty awful. But what’s with all this hatred? Can’t we all just get along?

The real problem with “Lulu” – other than Hal Willner and the Kotex jukebox thing and Lou Reed’s zombie state and the first person feminine perspective and the aimless songs averaging about nine minutes a piece – is Metallica. And it’s not even Metallica so much as it is James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, specifically.

James and Lars are running around right now – even as I type these words – bragging to the music press that “Lulu” is chock full of first studio takes. I believe them. It sounds like first studio takes. Hetfield’s backing vocals on “Lulu” make Lou Reed’s voice sound like Pavarotti or Edith Piaf or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in comparison. And Lars Ulrich is in beginner-league drumfills-a-go-go mode every time the album lurches into ad-libbed abstractness, which is quite a lot.

Lou Reed at the age of 12. 
Mostly, though, it comes down to this: Lou Reed is not for everyone. In fact, Lou Reed might not be for anyone. His discography is best appreciated in theory and not actually experienced, like a secret Venus de Milo sculpted from bovine excrement.

But right now, we’re seeing Metallica fans – all 200 million of them – bitching about a Lou Reed collaboration.

And that is a bit like JK Rowling and William Burroughs writing a novel together and then unleashing Rowling fans to complain about how many ellipses there are… and erotic hangings… and Johnny waking up in Ali’s body… It’s like a hypothetical David Lynch-directed “Twilight” movie being attacked by 14-year old girls for having a non-linear plot.

So I stand alone. Over here.

Yes, me. Right here. When it comes to “Lulu,” I will stand alone. I will spit into the wind. I will defy your conventional wisdom.

I will read the reviews… Listen to the album again…

And I will remain defiant.

Against all odds and against all logic and against good taste and better judgment, I will defiantly award Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Lulu” album an insane TWO WHOLE STARS (out of a possible five).

And that’s a solid D grade.

Yeah, I said it.

Don’t be a hater. 

34 comments:

  1. hal is definitely NOT the best producer for the project. damn. could've been good

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  2. @DeathShrike: Haha...
    I feel sort of compelled to give them a couple points for pure ambition...
    The original album they were going to do together was going to be just covers of old Lou reed stuff.
    This was a lot more experimental.
    Experiments fail. A lot.

    @Big a: I think Rick Rubin (who did Metallica's last album) would have been a better choice.
    He understands metal (he's produced Slayer, for pete's sake) and he understands bringing together odd combinations (Aerosmith and Run DMC?).
    Sadly, no one asked me ahead of time...

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  3. "It’s like a hypothetical David Lynch-directed “Twilight” movie being attacked by 14-year old girls for having a non-linear plot."

    You have officially jumped the effin' shark with this comment, Katy. Really.

    I don't know if I like it - but I like it. Because I think David Lynch is going around, secret-like, making movies every now and then, smoking cigarettes and saying 'fuck' - but he's really god, you see - the one I can actually get behind and believe in - and now you tell me that there's this possibility of a 'Twilight' film, done in His image.

    My mind is fucked now.

    Can I have a cigarette?

    Pet St. Athnasius for me.

    -W

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  4. Just who is this Lulu person you're carrying on about? Is that one of them there Bravarian cross-dressers you've been cohortin' with? I hearda that there Lou Reed feller afore, an he does sound a lot like that limey Leonard Cohen feller. In fact, I suspect that they're one an the same.

    I'ma hopin you'll be havin a mighty fine weekend!

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  5. First, I thought your next blog was going to be about tits to get your comment numbers back up.

    Pat Boone singing metal, like covering Crazy Train, would be a worse concept album. Thank God that will never happen. Now I have to go see if I can find a sample of Lulu online somewhere.

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  6. Lol I never understood concept albums and surprisingly enough, have never heard of Lulu. Guess I managed to escape that one. Huh.

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  7. @Will: Lou Reed reminds me a lot of David Lynch, actually.
    With both of them, I'm never sure whether they are geniuses who are just inconsistent or frauds that are sometimes accidentally brilliant.
    Or whether there's any difference between those two things...

    @Cal-el: Leonard is supposed to be way more classy and smooth and Zen than old Lou.
    Leonard would NEVER brag abut using drugs.
    Although... Hey, maybe it's possible for a person to speak in different characters to represent different parts of their personality...

    @Brent: One of my links on this blog includes an mp3 of a song called "The View."
    In it, James Hetfield claims that he is the table.
    It's probably not the most ill-advised concept album I own.
    I'm a sucker for concept albums.

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  8. @Punk Chopsticks: Ha! 'Lulu' is probably not the place to start when it comes to concept albums...
    There are some good ones - Pink Floyd and Genesis did some good ones a long time ago. Neutral Milk Hotel and Mount Eerie more recently.
    When I was younger, I never read fiction. Concept albums WERE my fiction.

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  9. "Lou Reed reminds me a lot of David Lynch, actually.

    With both of them, I'm never sure whether they are geniuses who are just inconsistent or frauds that are sometimes accidentally brilliant.
    Or whether there's any difference between those two things..."


    Remember, I'm a Northwesterner, and the two things we do when the rain comes down is (1) read, and (2) watch movies.

    Lots and lots and lots of movies.

    Back when he was Velvet Underground-good, Lou Reed might have been in a position to tie David Lynch's shoes once in a while. Now, he's just a hack sellout, like Iggy Pop.

    Well, maybe not that far. But not far from it.

    And, remember - I come from the same town which gave the world The Decemberists and Gus Van Sant. We know the difference between creativity and inertia. We really do.

    We've got a whole town full of creatives. In fact, we've got so goddamned many that 'normal' is the rest of the world's 'stupendous'. We roll that way.

    Hey. We even won the Food Network's award for Foodie-City, USA.

    Gastronomes, unite. You have nothing to lose but your heartburn.

    I need to go to bed now.

    (You still need to pet St. Athnasius for me).

    -W

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  10. @Will: I don't watch a lot of movies. Saw John Carpenter's "The Thing" for the first time tonight...
    I like a couple Decemberists albums, though. Their first one made my year-end top ten in 2003, and "Picaresque" has good moments. They also have a hackneyed concept album from a couple years back that took me a month to sort through...
    Lou Reed's career is mostly crap. I also once read an article where a New York Times writer said he was the biggest jerk she'd ever met - and she had interviewed Qaddafi and Castro.
    But "Berlin" and "Magic and Loss" and "Songs for Drella" are 3 of the best concept albums ever.
    And listening to "Lulu" these past 2 weeks have made me want to get more confrontational and frustrating and reckless with my old writing.
    I hope when I'm 70, I can still piss people off like Lou.
    (Saint Athanasius is too fat and needs to molt soon, but she is well-loved...)

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  11. @KatyDid "Although... Hey, maybe it's possible for a person to speak in different characters to represent different parts of their personality..."

    Thar ya go!

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  12. Portland needs Katy, or is it the other way round?

    One of the kids grabbed the remote and switched it to this blog, right?

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  13. Katy,I love Lou, not a fan of Metallica. and now, I'm off to listen. (oh, and then I'll write)

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  14. @Cal-el: Well, it's an idea I'm playing with. Still rolling around in my head...

    @JerseyDave: A record review is a little different for me.
    Somehow, it manages to read just like all my others, though...

    @Green Monkey: The second half of the album is better than the first half. More ambient guitar feedback, sound textures.
    The first half is a bit... disjointed.

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  15. The music you listed here is all garbage. If you want real music, I suggest looking up Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Curtis James Jackson the Third. YOU might better know him as 50 Cent.

    Sincerely,
    The Braindead American Public

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  16. Katy, your post motivated me to finish a piece I had been trying to write for a month and a half. Not pimping myself out but you'll see why. (btw - you have cool commenters) It's called King and Queen.

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  17. @A Beer for the Shower: I'm glad you commented.
    Recently, I've been wanting to ask a couple questions of the American public. About music, I mean.
    Do people really sit around the house listening to dance/party music?
    Really.
    Because I hear LMFAO or whatever and think, "In what context do people listen to this?"
    Of course, I like music that is miserable in almost EVERY context, but... dance music? Really?

    @Green Monkey: Something positive came of this blog entry? Woohoo!
    I loved your blog, by the way. And anybody who regularly listened to Lou Reed MUST have a story that needs to be told.
    Characters in life is all you've got, really. Everything else is filler...

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  18. You don't need Lou Reed to screw up Metallica. They're experts at screwing themselves.

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  19. @Bill the Butcher: They've had a rough couple decades - mostly because of self-inflicted wounds...
    I bought my first Metallica album this year (yeah, i still get compact discs).
    It's supposed to be their best one ("Master of Puppets"), but I never connected with it.
    There's a lot of music that is supposed to be great that I never connect with, though...

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  20. I have learnt a few things over the years

    If I really like a song the first time I hear it I just know I will be sick of it in a very short space of time...

    If I hate a song it has a chance that it will grow on me

    If I really like a new group they have bugger all chance of making it in the mainstream – I’m like a Joana when it comes to fresh new musical talent, once I start liking a group they might as well chuck themselves over the side for the music sharks to devour what should have been a promising musical career.

    Sadly this trick does not work on established stars, otherwise I would use my powers to destroy a number of talentless superstars (i.e. anything manufactured – except perhaps the Monkees – They get a hall pass as they were the original manufactured band )

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  21. @BlackLOG: Haha... Hey there!
    I think I do something similar. Albums are sort of like mental puzzles, and I have to listen to the good ones a bunch of times to figure out what it is trying to do.
    If I figure it out immediately,it won't hold my interest.
    My favorite ones took months and ended up taking me somewhere I didn't expect to go...

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  22. The irony is that 99% of the people that I witness listening to this awful dance music... will not actually be dancing to it. So... you're just playing this to *listen* to it? Somehow that seems even worse.

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  23. @A Beer for the Shower: Maybe they are dancing on the inside sorts of people.
    Now I am picturing Stephen Hawking sitting in his wheelchair, listening to C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now."

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  24. Then again Stephan H. might prefer things that make you go hmmm. (That's pretty funny huh?)

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  25. @JerseyDave: Good pop culture catch, but no, he would definitely prefer "Everybody Dance Now."
    He did some of the vocals for Pink Floyd's "Keep Talking" back in 1994. He could just as easily redo the vocals for these old dance songs.

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  26. I haven't heard it. Of course, I haven't been able to buy any music in at least a decade and what music I did have was stolen out of its cases. That's partially why I write my own music as bad as it might be. Well... I guess some of it was good enough for. Corporations to steal. I've never been a big fan of heavy metal any heavier than Led Zeppelin.

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    Replies
    1. I was reading a few weeks back that even iTunes sales are down.
      Turns out, people don't want to pay for music at all. I still buy albums - digitally on iTunes and bandcamp as well as CDs. But there are very few albums you can't at least stream for free these days.

      Delete
  27. linked - Doing Lou Reed - http://tinyurl.com/n4f9mz9

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    Replies
    1. Lou!

      I've been listening to him all week. He has an album from 1996 called "Set the Twilight Reeling" that I have apparently underappreciated up until now...

      Delete
  28. lol i don't remember reading a more adorable fangirl/fanboy-ish music review. which is what reviews should be! Tweetin it.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! If I'm not biased in favor of an album I'm reviewing - even the bad ones! - then i have no business reviewing it. Why talk about music you're trying to hate?

      Delete
  29. I don't know I just stopped in cuz I thought this post was going to be about that manikin looking like you (except for the armlessness and all though). Or that you were going to let us all know that your real job is being a manikin model and you finally got your image on an album cover.
    (or should I have been saying "wo-manikin")

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    Replies
    1. No, they didn't ask me to be on the cover. Which is fine, I guess, since there are Lou Reed albums and Metallica albums that I'd much prefer to be on than this one.

      Maybe there's hope that I'll be asked when they remaster "Master of Puppets" (which has GOTTA be dubbed "Re-Master of Puppets"! Or maybe Lou reed's "Magic and Loss."

      Delete

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