Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No Tame Dog: Lou Reed's Lulu

So what did you expect Lou Reed to do as he is closing in on his 70th birthday? Perhaps make a covers album revisiting the great songwriters of yesteryear? Maybe team up with some hot young artists for a duets album celebrating the monotony of now. Maybe he could have delivered a heartwarming Christmas collection to serve as a stocking stuffer this holiday season or, perhaps, he could have teamed with Disney or Pixar and scored a new children’s classic. Maybe he could have just thrown in the towel and sat at home with Laurie Anderson collecting residual checks from “Perfect Day” and “Walk on the Wild Side”. I mean, really, what else would you expect Lou Reed to do to celebrate his seventh decade on the planet other than unleash a work that is as combative and daring as any he has ever released?

There has been so much wrong with most of the attention thrown at the just-released Lulu from Lou Reed and Metallica that it is hard to know where to begin. From every smarmy ‘writer’ on music who dismissed the project before hearing even a note, to everyone who questioned the collaboration in the first place, Lulu has been doomed as a ‘popular’ success since it was announced and, perhaps, this is fitting as the last thing Lou or Metallica were going for with this audacious and brutal partnership was a popular record.

First off, the career of Lou Reed has been marked by surprising,and sometimes shocking, choices both in musical partners and stylistic direction. Every short-sighted fanboy who has dismissed his working with a group like Metallica in the first place clearly has no real sense of Lou Reed’s history as a musician or an artist. These so-called music historians would probably be surprised to hear that Lou has worked with everyone from members of Yes, to Alice Cooper’s backing band, to even KISS…yes KISS on their 1980 album Music from the Elder. Why the idea that the man who created one of the heaviest hard-rock albums of all-time, Rock 'n' Roll Animal, would be willing to work with perhaps the heaviest metal band in history would surprise anyone is beyond me. The collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica makes sense in the scheme of both their positions in rock history as well as their place as totally uncompromising artists.

Another misconception that I have seen being thrown around so casually is that Lou Reed has somehow always been a ‘critic’s darling’ throughout his career and that this has somehow led to this 'career killing' mistake. The fact is that Lou has faced more than his share of critical plummeting in his career and most of his best work has only found the kind of warranted reception it has deserved years, and sometimes decades, after their releases. With the exception of Street Hassle, The Blue Mask, New York and Ecstasy none of Lou’s greatest albums were universally that well-regarded upon release. Masterpieces like White Light White Heat, Berlin, Coney Island Baby, The Bells, Magic and Loss and The Raven were greeted with as much scorn as praise in their day and, like those albums, Lulu will need time to sink in, especially in an atmosphere where nearly everyone is looking for it to fail. Music more than any other art form demands time and it’s this fact that makes music criticism, especially in this day and age of leaked albums and crappy MP3 sound, such a problem. Imagine how an album like David Bowie’s Low, a work so dependent on time and patience, would be treated if it were released in todays’ short-attention span and immediate gratification market. Lulu is everything most modern music fans don’t want…it’s challenging, intellectual and downright grueling. It’s not an easy listen and it’s not an album that can be digested with just a few plays on a computer or IPod. It’s a ‘heavy’ album in the truest sense of the word…it’s a long and detail obsessed novel in an abridged audio book world.

I’m not going to attempt any sort of ‘review’ of Lulu because, frankly, I think it deserves more than I could write on it here at such an early stage. I will say though that it contains several tracks (especially Pumping Blood, Mistress Dread, Cheat on Me and Junior Dad) that are among the finest songs and performances Lou Reed has ever delivered. The near twenty-minute “Junior Dad” is particularly jaw-dropping and I feel like you would have to be fucking deaf to not hear just how utterly brilliant this track is. For Lou Reed to deliver a work this challenging at nearly seventy years old, when most of his peers have either checked or sold-out, is beyond impressive…it is downright heroic and I have never been happier to shout to the world that Lou Reed is my guy…my artist…my soundtrack.

I don't want to be that nearing forty year old guy who throws up his hands in disgust screaming something is really wrong here but, when it comes to the way art is being handled, and specifically modern-music, I have to be that guy. Over the weekend Louisville's mighty Ear X-tacy closed its doors for good and I was forced to say goodbye to one of the last great record stores that had held its own against this bullshit download world. I was going to go and buy Lulu there today and the idea that I would only be greeted by a locked door and dimmed lights fills me with the kind of anger and sadness that I never want to feel. This ferocious new LP from Lou Reed and Metallica probably won't earn many fans right now but one day, down the road, it will be viewed rightly as a call to arms by an artist who refused to let age and expectation control his vision...set the twilight reeling indeed.


dave said...

rock n roll hard!

Lastyear said...

I've only listened to this once so far. Liked most of it espically the last track, a couple didn't work for me, but one listen isn't enough for a proper evaluation. Been a big Reed fan since The Velvet days (dating myself). Seen him over 20 times, including a late 70's tour in which he had blown his voice, left the audience waiting for over 60 minutes after the opening act and came out, sit on the edge of the stage and berated the audience. Ian Dury was the opening act and was quite good but the crowd hated him and was very rude. Masonic Auditorium in Detroit.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much LastYear! Wow, I am envious of how many times you got to see Lou! I have only seen him twice and would kill to go back in time and see one of those tours you did. Thanks again for commenting!

Gerry McGovern said...

Absolutely brilliant article. Totally agree. So far, I've listened to Lulu more than 30 times and it gets better with every listening. Junior Dad is one of the greatest songs I have ever heard. This is great art, challenging, ferocious at times, deeply troubling, and in search of some form of redemption.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Gerry! I totally agree with your thoughts on LULU. This is a major, major work and it will eventually be viewed as the classic it is (and a lot of folks will be eating their words). Thanks again!