As one might have expected, there are issues with security regarding the release of Lulu by Lou Reed and Metallica. I am stripped naked, hosed down and put into a straight jacket, then led into a darkened room for my one listen. That’s not actually true, I’m given a cup of coffee and then led into a darkened room, and it’s quite hospitable really. The fact this LP is 95 minutes long, with the final track clocking in at just under 20 minutes, adds to the sense of foreboding however.
“I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski / In the dark of the moon”
Lou starts as he means to continue, throwing us off guard with wanton violence and highfalutin references. If truth be known, Brandenburg Gate is a dog of a song, a loose jam on a familiar three-chord progression (or should that be regression), which sounds rather like a bunch of drunks playing ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ and getting the words wrong. Lou’s and James Hetfield’s voices also sit together like Benjamin Netanyahu and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas. A shaky start to say the least.
“I want to have you doubting every meaning you’ve amassed / Like a fortune / Throw it away / For worship someone who actively despises you”
This is more like it, and thankfully it’s not about the Scottish indie pop rockers of the same name. ‘The View’, which fans may have seen a short clip from, released in order to tantalise and tease a while ahead of the actual release, is perhaps the most Metallica song on here. It’s a crunching tackle of a tune, doomy and full of purpose, and the riffing mixed up with Lou’s dulcet delivery recalls Iggy Pop’s ‘I’m Bored’ or less flatteringly ‘Little Pig, Little Pig’ by Green Jello, though to be fair the words have more brevity. That ‘worship someone who actively despises you’ line is a cracker for a start.
“If I’m pumping blood like a common state worker / If I waggle my ass like a dark prostitute / Would you think less of me?”
This track begins with some orchestration, and if I’m not mistaken they’ve employed a viola player to scratch dry strings throughout. The conversation probably went something like this.
Kirk Hammett: “Let’s get a viola player to scratch dry strings throughout!”
James Hetfield: “Yeah, like on ‘Venus in Furs’. Fucking hell, we’re working with Lou Reed!”
Lars Ulrich: “Don’t you mean Lou Reed is working with us? He doesn’t sell shit compared to Metallica.”
Well, maybe. This track is great actually, heavy and brutal with a weird and frightening crescendo, with Lou hitting his stride rapping over the top like on latter-day work ‘The Raven’ or latter-day Scott Walker when he’d clearly gone completely bonkers. It’s difficult to tell if it’s pretentious codswallop or genius after just the one play, though I’m erring towards the latter.
“I wish you’d tie me up and beat me / Crush me like a kick / A bleeding strap across my back / Some blood that you could kiss”
There’s a time in every person’s life when they have to listen to a 69-year-old man pretending to be a submissive girl begging to be beaten, and I suppose for me it’s right now. It’s made all the more unsettling by the throbbing repetitiveness of the track, like some runaway thrash locomotive that refuses to pick anyone up. It’s definitely one of the more impenetrable tracks on the album on many levels.
“You can’t catch the moon, or the sun or the stars / It doesn’t matter who you are“
From the ‘1-2-3-4’ intro, here’s a more conventional two-chord shuffle you’d more readily associate with 70s Lou Reed, with Mr Street Hassle jiving over the top. It’s respite after that last track. Hetfield interjects here and there, though his voice sounds oddly incongruous next to Reed’s, and that’s saying something when you consider he’s playing with his own band. We’re maybe at the half way point and it’s become clear this is Lou Reed’s record more than it is Metallica’s. Though perhaps that’s no surprise, given Lou’s ‘winning’ personality.
‘Cheat on Me’
“I spit upon you and change my mind / I have many hearts to break and many, many, many more to take”
This begins like some Eno soundscape infused with what might be Mongolian panpipes before a pulsating bass takes it to some place new. Discordant guitar and feedback then gives way to a frantic riff. Lou barks over the frantic riff for quite a while. Actually the frantic riff is starting to wear a little now. I mean it’s a good riff, but it’s going on a bit to be honest. Even the world’s most pleased-with-itself riff would find it hard to justify itself when it looked back and realised it’d been going for over 10 minutes. Everyone in the world has fallen asleep apart from Bob Harris.
“I wish I could kill you but I too love your eyes / I want you to be my wife / spermless like a girl”
Metallica fans, if they haven’t already, are probably starting to think how gay this all is. Which is jolly entertaining for everyone else. This begins with phones ringing, backwards voices and creepy Hitchcockian noises, and sounds like the inside of a clown’s head. A satisfying groove comes to bear as Reed, clearly caught in two minds, shouts out contradictory statements of intent. ‘I want so much to hurt you,’ he sings. ‘I want you to be my wife’. As marriage proposals go, it’s an original approach.
“My small dog / He want what I got / Wants to run his tongue over my hot spot / Pathetic little dog”
Kirk Hammett gets to dig his acoustic out for this one. There we are listening to a nice song about a little dog, and Lou has to spoil it all with lines about puny bodies and tiny dicks. We’re beginning to think this song isn’t about a little dog at all. He’s gone all sexy again.
“The hair on your shoulders / The smell of your armpit / the state of your vulva and everything on it”
Reed is almost yodelling with Tourette-like bile here, and ‘Dragon’ could yet be the filthiest song. It’s self-flagellation set to extremely heavy music, and this is definitely the track where mother will tell tittering little boys to turn it off. “But it’s art, mum”, they’ll counter with some justification. “Are we really dead now? Are we both dead?” he sighs at the end, and it’s at this point I wonder whether a knowledge of the plays in question, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box by German playwight Frank Wedekind, would enhance the listening experience. Or even if knowledge of the works is integral to the listening experience.
It’s a good question, and one, having not read or seen the plays, I cannot readily answer. Reed once said he ‘harboured the hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels and films would ingest rock”. I think Mick Jagger said it best when he said ‘it’s only rock ‘n’ roll (but I like it)’.
“Would you come to me if I was drowning / An arm above the last wave”
Finally we reach the last track, and brace ourselves. At 19:28, my head is metaphorically submerged in a fishtank like Thom Yorke’s in the ‘No Surprises’ video. ‘Junior Dad’ is almost melodic, with Lars beating toms triumphantly on a track that has an aquatic, wondrous soundtrack feel. Strange feelings of euphoria begin to shoot to my brain and endorphins race around the body as I begin to realise I’m going to survive this around the 17 minutes mark. With regards to Reed’s previous comments, it feels more like I’ve just read a weighty tome than it does listened to a rock record.
‘Lulu’ will certainly not be for everyone, and Lou Reed fans will take to this more readily, given that most Metallica fans are not known for their open-mindedness. It’s epic, like Apocalypse Now is epic, and while I like Apocalypse Now I wouldn’t want to watch it every weekend. The best thing about this record is that it exists, and Metallica are to be congratulated for exploring their more avant-garde side. It suits them.