Features | Awards

The Rehearsing My Choir Award For Ill-Conceived Musical Projects That, Improbably, Turned Out To Be Worse Than Everyone Expected

By Brent Ables | 14 December 2011

Lou Reed & Metallica
(Warner Bros.; 2011)

There have been some astonishingly terrible ideas for musical projects this year. Remember how Jack White irrevocably parted ways with a respectable career to join ICP in celebrating Mozart’s coprophilia? Turned out that was only the first instance of a pattern that would be followed by others, and to even worse effect. It’s almost algebraic: respected artist [A] + maligned collaborator [B] = a heaping pile of wet shit ©. Jack White + ICP = “Leck Mich Im Arsh.” David Lynch + David Lynch = Crazy Clown Time. And the most rancid of them all: Lou Reed + Metallica’s Lulu. The only thing more astonishing than the fact that this album ever saw the light of day is that it turned out to be even worse than we imagined. This is an album that, one day, we will have to explain to our grandchildren, and it will not be easy.

Such is the utter wretchedness of Lulu that it’s impossible to approach it with any semblance of objectivity. But then, what would be the point? You already know how bad it is. Before it was even released, internet commentators were falling all over themselves trying to find the most creative way to talk about this debacle, making it the rare album that’s been more fun to read about than to listen to. And while I’d really like to be the one to find some redeeming value in Lulu, every disparaging word written about this album is completely true. Lulu is aggressively, intentionally, abhorrently bad. You have to really try to make music this joyless and misanthropic.

I don’t think Metallica is to blame for Lulu’s epic shittiness. Sure, they’ve been spinning their wheels for the last few decades, but mediocrity isn’t a crime, and they’ve had their day—the Cliff Burton era left us some great metal. If anything, I pity them for their part in this project. The third-rate, recycled riffs and tired guitar solos that make up so much of Lulu sound more like the amateur meanderings of a group of fifteen-year old Megadeth fans than the best work of the metal legends. And the band’s humorless attempts at crafting tense background textures to accompany Reed’s ramblings are, well, laughable. The band just seems so far out of their comfort zone that they were perhaps bound to fail. Their real mistake here was agreeing to work with the reigning master of puppets, Lou Reed.

Because Reed is undoubtedly the guilty party in this crime against art. Never mind that listening to 87 minutes of his atonal, weary croaking is aural torture of the worst imaginable kind; what makes this record so irredeemably ugly is what he has to say. Lulu is almost exclusively concerned with the basest and most abysmal realities of the human condition: rape, prostitution, torture, masochism, and hatred. Reed alternately takes the perspective of the titular degraded young dancer and her nameless torturers, and manages to represent therein all that is ugliest about humanity. From the dancer’s perspective, we get lines like these from “Pumping Blood”: “I beg you to degrade me / Is there waste that I could eat? / I am a secret lover / I am your little girl / Please spit into my mouth.” And the girl’s male companions are represented as sadomasochistic demons whose only reservation about brutally murdering their victims is that it would cut short the fun. In the charming “Frustration,” one of these men expresses his, y’know, frustration: “I wish that I could kill you / But I too love your eyes / You’re feeling less, whore, but you stimulate / The pain in your eyes… I want so much to hurt you.” And so on. For an hour and a half. It is, in a word, Hell.

And why? Did Lou Reed really believe in the value of what he created here? Does he really think it’s the greatest thing he’s ever done, as he has since claimed? I refuse to believe Reed’s aesthetic sense is so impaired he would actually believe this is good music. So, in closing, I will just throw out two possibilities: 1) Lulu really is just an elaborate joke, and Reed is sitting in his mansion laughing his wrinkled ass off about the whole thing; or, 2) Reed really did set out to make the most repellent record imaginable, and that he did so out of some Bukowskian belief in the holiness and unifying power of human filth. In other words, the reaction to Lulu was exactly what Reed was aiming for; perhaps he felt that the only way to bring together music listeners in such a stratified and chaotic music scene was to make something that absolutely no one could find redeemable. And it has unified us, more than any record that anyone has actually liked this year. If that was his goal, and this really isn’t just some asshole-ish joke on us, then, well, he undoubtedly achieved it. So…thanks, I guess?

Now let’s never speak of this again.