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November 07, 2011

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Phil Freeman

I don't like it. But I don't like Lou Reed very much at all. I've tried, for decades...he's part of the required curriculum, after all, thanks in large part to the efforts of Christgau and Bangs, so as a person who has written about music (mostly rock-based music) for over 15 years, I pretty much had to contend with his catalog to some degree, at some point. I could probably cull a half dozen songs, total, from the dozen or so albums (solo and VU) I've heard, but there's so much other stuff I like better, why bother? Life's short.

You're right, LULU is not totally unlistenable. Not by a long shot. There are riffs on there I'd love to hear Metallica repurpose on their next album. And the second (instrumental) half of "Junior Dad," the album's 20-minute closer, is very pretty. The biggest surprise coming out of the whole thing, for me, was Robert Trujillo's bass playing, and I've been a fan of his since he was in Suicidal Tendencies and calling himself "Stymie." But everything I don't like about LULU can be laid right at the feet of Lou Reed. Which was kinda what I expected to happen before I ever pressed play on the thing.

I would rather have heard Metallica collaborate with David Thomas, or Mark E. Smith, or Leonard Cohen, or Scott Walker.

Jaime

Not to get all Whatever Floats Yr Boat Hey It's All Good, but to me, music, especially "popular" music (whatever the hell that is), is so much about personal taste and appeal, that just about ALL a person writing about it can meaningfully offer is context and history. As an example of the latter, musicians singing in the 'voice' of the distaff gender has been going on in the folk/ballad tradition since at least, oh I dunno, musical performances have been recorded. That's been for a good 100 years or so, I reckon. You'd think someone paid to experience music and write about it would know that.

David Ehrenstein

I have always preferred John Cale to Lou Reed.

And Nico to both of them.

Is this still a movie blog?

Glenn Kenny

@ Phil: Funny you should mention Scott Walker, because one of the things I was thinking was that if it was his name on the spine rather than Reed's, a lot of the aforementioned bearded folk would be falling all over themselves about how enigmatically great it was. But it's also true that a Scott Walker collab would have yielded an entirely different record. Which is to say you're right: Lou really does provide the take-it-or-leave-it element. What I DO think would not have been an entirely impossible/improbable premise woulda been to bring in Ute Lemper or someone like her to do the vocals. Or maybe Dagmar Krause! Oh, wait, that woulda brought the usual suspects right back to "unlistenable.."

Jaime

I'll second that John Cale thing. I love PARIS 1919 more than I can rationally express.

Zach

Can I just express admiration stopping just short of awe at your restraint, Glenn, with regards to that twerp Klosterman? Ever since someone bought (and then left me obligated to read) one of his dumbass books, I've held him in a dark, dank corridor of abhorrence. To me, he epitomizes the defiantly shallow trend of post-PoMo criticism-lite (TM); writing whose perfect object is to sound very smart while actually being very stupid. This piece, which I somehow forced myself to read, is a perfect example: in touching on various subjects besides the one at hand, making a big show of pan-media and cultural awareness, he actually provides a striking illustration of just how little he knows about A) Pop music history, B) Pop music in general, C) The Business of Pop music, C) Capitalism. I'm no follower of football, but I'm nevertheless sure he got that wrong too. It's sort of amazing when you think about it, but then you get a headache.

James Keepnews

Haven't seen it remarked upon yet (though it must've been by now, must it not've?), but I think comparisons between this collab and the one what produced MUSIC FROM "THE ELDER" are more apt than invidious. Dunno how I feel about LULU -- not as good as I felt about SONGS FOR DRELLA, I'd say -- though I suspect I'd've more greatly welcomed any/all of the five covering Alban Berg. Or, for that matter, News for Lulu covering "Waves of Fear".

GeardC

"But given the near-hysteria of the hostility greeting the album from those who are maybe in a position to appreciate and even shed some light on the context of its creation and theme, maybe the artists figured they were in a kind of fuck-it, let's-just-let-it-drop situation anyway."

Being a fan since 1986's Master of Puppets, each passing year it becomes harder to understand how Metallica ever made their great first 4 albums. But Metallica's career trajectory since then, or at least the documentary Some Kind of Monster, should clue in anyone who thinks the Lou Reed collaboration was some act of divine inspiration.

And you should also in all fairness point out that Lou Reed was indeed a great melodic singer once upon a time, and a very effective one at that (VU's 3rd album for instance).

But yes, I nearly had an aneurysm listening to Brandenburg Gate, the opening track: I haven't laughed as hard at a song since hearing Bird of Peace from the Hee Bee Gee Bees album for the first time (yes, it's on Youtube).

Mike De Luca

That was fucking awesome. I will unabashedly sing along to "I Gotta Feeling" in all its call-and-response goofiness. It fits nicely alongside "Plastic Palace People". I dig Metal Machine Music. It's like THX 1138 having a three way with Barbarella and Harry Caul. "Lulu" is something I will have to check out. This was one of your best, Glenn.

AdenDreamsOf

Normally I'm against speaking in generalizations about groups of people because doing so usually comes across as shallow and vague, but as a 25 year old who has to deal with elitist hipsters on a regular basis I can personally say that this is what their average opinion on Lou Reed and "Lulu" looks like.

-They will obviously snicker at just the thought of "Lulu" because they find Metallica to be "corporate, washed up, gym bro" music.

-They like Lou Reed's old stuff, especially with Velvet Underground, but will go out of their way to name "Berlin" as their favorite and speak at length on how 'conceptual' and 'honest' it is.

-Just to go against what they perceive as the tide of the average music listener's opinion, they will also say that John Cale was the real artist in VU and they'll name off "Academy in Peril" and whatever albums Cale did with Eno. Hell, they'll probably mention John Cage too because his name sounds like John Cale and he's all 'forward thinking' like Cale and Eno too (they're probably unaware Cage is dead).

-Finally, the conversation will steer towards the fact that the hipster thinks Reed's wife Laurie Anderson is more skilled than old Lou. They'll have no valid reason to make this statement, but they'll do it because the conversation started off about "Lulu" and they still want to smugly laugh at Reed and Metallica.

ZS

Glenn,

Thanks for this. I like Lulu quite a bit and have listened to it a few times already. The shrillness of most of the negative reviews has been dismaying.

Nort

Oh man, AdenDreamsOf is really bringing the hipster-on-hipster violence!

Queensryche4ever

"rather, um, vivid lyrics"

What does that, um, mean?

Joel

Wow. Klosteman couldn't have planned a better way to attract this blog's attention. A perfect follow-up to the Kois/Taylor stuff from the previous post. I'm getting pretty frustrated with critics who insist that people who like certain works of art are somehow faking their affection. Klosterman's line, "It's not really designed for people who like music," is just the flip-side of Taylor's belief (or the belief of whoever he quoted) that people who dislike Mission to Mars can't possibly enjoy movies. And it's pretty much Kois's non-argument argument that anyone who derives pleasure or insight from Solaris is just faking it. Please, critics: be cruel, be scathing, tell us why we're wrong to like stuff, but at least acknowledge that our affection for that stuff is real.

Glenn Kenny

OK, time to answer some questions:

@ Zach (and a little bit Joel): Full disclosure, at least a little of my "restraint" comes from the fact that I know Mr. Klosterman, only slightly, and socially rather than professionally, as it were: he's the best friend of another friend who's married to an old friend and a former Premiere colleague. We haven't had much occasion to talk shop whenever we've met, which is fine with me. Last time I saw him I think was when he did a panel with Mark Harris (a friendly acquaintance), Brian Koppelman (a very good friend), Dana Stevens (absolutely not a friend) and Zach Baron and Sean Fennessey (don't know them well but they seem like very nice guys). Afterwards I said to Chuck, "Oh, you; you and your THEORIES."

@ GeardC: I get what you're saying, and though I'd never call Lou exactly a "great" singer of melodies as such, well, yeah, the third VU album showed his softer, ability-to-quietly-carry-a-nice-tune side. Which he VERY rarely revisited after that. I DO believe he's a truly GREAT singer, or can be a truly great singer, in the particular speech-singing style that he more or less invented and that only works with his always weirdly scanning lyrics. My favorite example of how precise his seemingly offhand phrasing can get is on "Dirt" on "Street Hassle," particularly the "hey you remember that song by this dude from Texas whose name was..." bit. I still haven't "gotten into" "Lulu" sufficiently to make any pronouncement over whether what he's doing in this case "works" or not. All I know is that it doesn't automatically hit my own "off" switch.

@ Queensyche4ever: I suppose it means filled with blood and lots of other primal and/or Freudian-type imagery. As I thought I made clear, I wasn't aiming for a thorough piece of analysis here. Sorry!

ZS

Now review the John Zorn/ Lou Reed/ Laurie Anderson disc!

Lex

MUSTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINE POWER.

That's the bullshit case for "first three albums" Metallica, but it changes nothing about METALLICA being the near-God of ALL BANDS ever, because AND JUSTICE is better than the first three because of that stripped OPEN E CHORD SOUND and "To Live is to Die," not to mention all the best Early Metallica songs this side of Kill 'Em All--

Face it, KILL 'EM ALL is perfection, but RIDE THE LIGHTNING was kind of SCIENCE CLASS DORKY aside from the Mustaine songs, and MoP is their classic, but you're gonna listen to AND JUSTICE way more than that one...

BLACK ALBUM is the rare case where the SELL OUT SINGLES are actually WAY better than any of the dogshit "regular tracks"... the back end of that album is UNLISTENABLE-- anyone up for a night of Struggle Within, My Friend of Misery, Of Wolf and Man, or that dogshit failed single that covered West Side Story...

But the dirty secret is the POST-BLACK STUFF is classic, too... LOAD and especially RELOAD being WAY overrated and perfectly conveying the strange grunge-lite grunge-preNuMetal-Squirrel Nut Zippers strangeness of 1996-1997 in Friends Haircut Form, both albums a mix of streamlined greatness and tiresome old-school filler... Just about anything on either album is better than an old-school clunker like ESCAPE... And ST ANGER has a fair claim on most underrated metal album ever, everyone stuck on that SWEATERED THERAPIST IMAGE from the doc, but that album kicks ass with the introduction of TRUJILLO and the SNARE and Hammett setting aside that godawful CryBaby wah for ten minutes...

All that said, whatever that last "metal" album was (the one with UNFORGIVEN III on it), that THAT was TERRIBLE, listened to it once and chucked it out the window like Kerry King claims he did to their previous shit...

So I AM STOKED with the weirdness of LULU, having liked everything I've heard so f--

Wait, why am I talking about this here? No one here listens to metal, this is like waxing fanboy over Phil Anselmo on IndieWire.

steve mowrey

Wouldn't it be lovely if Lou (& his maniacally egotistical wife) would just GO AWAY?

Zach

@ Glenn - I get it. And the fact is, Klosterman probably isn't as bad as I made him out to be. He just gets under my skin, that whole "cruising for a quick theory" approach to criticism. From what I've heard of LULU, I agree that it really is kind of interesting, and I say that as someone who dabbles occasionally in metal (Hope that admission doesn't shock Lex.)

That Fuzzy Bastard

I only heard the album on streaming, so I've only listened to it once, but... I wish it was a lot more unlistenable! On a first listen, it just sounded boring---Metallica grinding away with the same riffs they've played for a decade (and produced as though they're under a blanket), and Lou continuing to not-even-try the way he has since SONGS FOR DRELLA briefly woke him up. I mean, man, I suffered through the Reed/Wilson Edgar Allen Poe show, and that was some of the laziest rhyming and lyrics ever on a stage. You wanna diss hipsters, well, Reed has continued to be the patron saint of NYC hipsters, convinced that his own inherent cool means he doesn't have to bother reading, thinking, or working and he'll still get the rewards entitled to him.

That said, here's an anecdote that seems appropriate to where this blog has been lately: When I was a teenager living at my parent's house, we had three cats, all very cute Persians, who usually spent the day sleeping under my bed where no damned human would bother them. I was, at the time, at the height of my VU obsession, and WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT was my favorite record ever. As soon as Side 2 got to "Sister Ray", all three cats would drowsily troop out from under the bed, hop on top of the covers where they could be closer to the speakers, and blissfully doze off. I don't know if this works with every cat, but on these particular Persians, "Sister Ray" = Pleasant Dreams.

bill

Does the fact that I like BERLIN make me a hipster? Because if so, then that really fucks everything up.

LondonLee

Now, Berlin is unlistenable, not for any any musical reasons but I can't get through it without wanting to slit my wrists.

You got something against Sinatra/Jobim?

Glenn Kenny

Nothing at all against "Sinatra/Jobim," LL; it's one of my favorite records ever. Just saying it really hits the spot when you're looking for something melodic, is all.

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