Saturday, 29 October 2011

Metallica and Lou Reed - Lulu

Supping In A Dark Place

The Metallica and Lou Reed collaboration Lulu is without question of interest, and raises many questions. Is it musically engaging? Is it lyrically challenging/enriching? To which fan-base will it most appeal? Is its narrative gratuitous or contemporarily interpretive?

I don’t think it is musically that spectacular. Its stoner metal is as effective as you could rightly expect from Metallica but if that was the prime interest I’d go straight to any other Metallica album – there’s nothing new or stand-out here in that regard. Lou Reed’s essentially spoken narrative isn’t ‘musically’ engaging. As spoken poetry it is often hypnotic – the repetitions of phrases having dramatic impact, and the dark themes are powerful, though these will repel some and haunt others. I do not know the plays of German expressionist Frank Wedekind upon which this whole piece is based – Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box – but their description of presenting a society riven by the demands of lust and greed [cited on Wikipedia] gives you a gist of the lyrical preoccupations.

I haven’t yet fathomed how Reed’s male appropriation of the original female voice/focus is meant to skew the storytelling. There is an apparent gratuitous and puerile focal point in the lyrics. On the other hand, its dark reflection on self-loathing, suicidal thought and burial, to name a few themes, and not necessarily the darkest,  is dramatically compelling as well as possibly a nihilistic impression of human relationships. Is that necessarily contemporary? If not, what is the purpose of the re-presentation? Not knowing the original I can’t comment on whether this adds or detracts. Of course there’s nothing wrong in bringing something relatively unknown to the attention of a new audience. Are we meant to read the original after listening to the album?

I suspect the main appeal would be to a Lou Reed audience as I can’t see why Metallica fans would single this out as a significant reflection of the latter’s oeuvre. But I don’t know. I do know that Lou Reed needs a spoken vehicle for his music. Seeing a reasonably recent live performance with, I believe, Elvis Costello, it’s clear that the singing voice is shot, not that he was ever a crooner. The Lou Reed fan base would most likely be inclined to the experimental nature of this work and, as I’ve said, as performance poetry of sorts I do find it forceful. At times, Reed’s contribution sounds like later Johnny Cash, for example in Hurt, and this strangely adds to or creates some gravitas. Cheat on Me, last offering on cd1, is a good example of this, and James Hetfield’s shouted vocal adds to the brooding climax of this number. First track Brandenburg Gate on this cd is the most effectively illustrative of the union of these artists, the opening ribald lyric [oft quoted in early reviews] setting the lyrical tone, and the acoustic start – a neat tease – giving way to signature thundering metal with Hetfield again providing echoing shouts. Overall, it is an album that at the very least deserves a listen for its daring and experimentation, or just difference. Other than that, it is difficult to judge when and where you would be best placed to have that first listen. Perhaps not when the Sunday lunch is being served. Unless you sup in very dark places.

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