Art is a tricky, even belligerent thing. Some cite that there are strict borders, like those who suggest a certain song is “not music” despite its possession of tempo, sound, pitch, whatever. Some suggest that a certain poem is “not poetry” despite its use of language for aesthetic qualities, while others say that a painting isn’t a painting because it’s “just a bunch of crap on a piece of paper.”
The debate over what art is and what art isn’t rages on in light of Lulu, the joint venture of the peculiar from Lou Reed and Metallica. Upon the exposure of mere seconds of music from the recording, the bile began to drizzle from the crooks of the Internet. What the hell was going on? What is Metallica thinking? Are they trying to alienate their fanbase – again? Who the fuck is Lou Reed?
The scope of the project, its art and its ambition, is unmistakable. A stubborn, strange, terrifying melding of styles if there ever was one, Lulu is an extraordinarily ruthless work that frankly gives its audience too much credit.
Lulu was originally set to be Reed’s adaptation of German playwright Frank Wedekind’s plays. The "Lulu plays" describe a young dancer, one of certain sexual appeal, and her rise through German society. After using her relationships with wealthy men to reach certain societal heights, the dancer falls from grace and turns to poverty and prostitution. The plays pushed boundaries, featuring elements of lesbianism and graphic violence.
Reed’s decision to take on this material puts him in a curious position, but contrary to what seems to be popular belief he hasn’t abandoned all musicality in making this record.
When he asks “Why do I cheat on me?” after proclaiming to have the “loves of many men,” it’s interesting to note that he shouts “Come on” and coaxes Metallica to bring in a groove (“Cheat on Me”) that matches his spoken word approach in surprising fashion.
And “Iced Honey,” with its countdown opening and thumping glide, fits the bill as a straightforward rocker.
For the most part, though, Lulu is aptly outlandish fare. It doubtlessly will and has put people off. In place of “Sweet Jane” and “Enter Sandman” are songs with winding, avant-garde lines and whirring arrangements. Reed’s unfathomable lyrics, with talk of “coloured dicks” and all sorts of other seemingly arbitrary conceptions, are off-putting and hard to take with a straight face if the overall context is ignored.
Yet there are moments of brilliance, such as the experimental guitar solo from Kirk Hammett found on “Dragon” and the spacious arrangement of the 19-minute “Junior Dead.” There are also Reed’s irrepressible emotional outbursts (“Frustration”).
Metallica fans, those who can’t and won’t accept anything unless it’s another Master of Puppets, already have their minds made up about poor Lulu. Reed’s fans, those who understand the depths of his cacophonous incongruity, will perhaps give it a chance. The beauty of this thing lives in the balance between, in those who comprehend the concept and those who appreciate that courage and challenging the conventional is a marker of true art.