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Lou Reed & Metallica: Why all the #WTF?

Jennifer Lucy Allan

lulu lou reed and metallica

Sitting conspicuously at #9 in our 2011 Releases of the Year chart was Lou Reed and Metallica's Lulu, one of the most hated albums of the year. Reactions to its charting have ranged from noisy retching to charges of conspiracy. What's struck me, looking after The Wire's various digital channels, is the nature of these reactions - it's not the fact that hardly anyone likes Lulu that's unnerving, but that the response has been so over the top.

A few readers were bemused by the fact that James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual was our album of the year, but the reaction was rather more considered to say the least. As a result of Lulu's Top 10 placing, we have been accused of constructing the chart purely as a hyper-ironic statement, received an email (on Christmas day) that referred to it as a "piece of shit", and otherwise been variously slagged off. While every music magazine is used to receiving its fair share of beefs, the reaction to Lulu (and its appearance in our chart) has been uniquely venomous.

Interestingly, people seem to think the Loutallica album is objectively bad music; not just something that few people like, but something it is impossible for anyone to like, at all. It's a bizarre response to a record that is essentially a mix of overwrought beatnik poetry and overwrought Metal riffing, especially in the context The Wire - there's really nothing in it that's so shocking to modern ears it warrants the reception it's been getting. Why is it legitimate to react to it like this? What's the key difference between Lulu and other 2011 albums that people didn't like, the one ingredient that pushed everyone over the edge?

The obvious answer to that is Lou Reed himself, who has been (intentionally) whipping audiences into a hate-filled frenzy since at least the mid-1970s, and even once released a live double album, Take No Prisoners, full of obnoxious crowd baiting routines (sample line: "Give me an issue, I'll give you a tissue, and you can wipe my ass with it"). But that can't be the whole story. There's also the attitudes of Metallica fans to take into account. And of course, the ever present trolls.

Perhaps because there's been little consensus on what's definitively great this year, there's relief to be found in a consensus on what's terrible. In some ways that happens easier online – the balance of negative and positive in comments sections, YouTube and sometimes on Twitter tends towards the former. Add the objections of Metallica's more conservative fans to the group going way off message, stir it up via a YouTube preview and a set on Jools Holland, add some scathing reviews, and hey presto, Lulu's branded as safe to hate.

But not all zines, papers or sites thought Lulu was awful (although it garnered 1.0 ratings and "one of the worst albums ever made" type assessments). Ultimately, the reaction to it is a testament to Lou Reed's ability to still get up the noses and under the skin of even the most open-minded listeners. He's probably laughing his head off at it all this very minute.

(The above image comes courtesy of Rock Sound magazine, whose office is just across the corridor in the same building as The Wire's. They think Lulu is a joke too - obviously)

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Comments

I couldn't give a shit about Lou Reed or Metallica, and I like the idea of two commercially successful artists collaborating to produce something so anti-commercial and ugly, particularly something that uses extremist imagery and such an abstract concept. And yet I absolutely hated Lulu.

You seem to disparage people who didn't really expand upon their reasons for hating it, but I feel like it's one of those albums so bad that it's difficult to provide a more considered critique. It wasn't because people were shocked by it (beyond a few genuinely offensive lyrics: Pumping Blood comes to mind), but simply that it's so boring. Metallica's riffs sound tired and homogenous, and their guitars are stuck on the same generic guitar tone for the entire record (however, I did actually begin to enjoy the final track, when they finally shifted things up). But I'm more offended by Reed's songwriting. I appreciate misanthropy, but he handles it awfully. It is a joke, and we shouldn't encourage Reed by saying this is enough to receive any sort of critical acclaim. Most of his lyrics could never evoke any emotional reaction beyond a cringe, and his unproductive use of repetition ends up making every damned song about three times as long as it ought to be. It was painful to listen through; admittedly I've only heard it once.

It seems to me that you included it on the end of year list because you knew you'd get a senselessly negative response, and would be able to post this snarky defence of its inclusion. To be honest, it made me lose a degree of respect for The Wire.

"It seems to me that you included it on the end of year list because you knew you’d get a senselessly negative response, and would be able to post this snarky defence of its inclusion." I think you're pretty off the mark there. This post is hardly a defense of Lulu - I don't say that I like it or dislike it anywhere - what's being discussed is the reaction to it. When you say that we included it in the end of year lists purely for the reaction, you're wrong. We (ie, the editorial team) didn't "choose" to include it in the end of year charts. If you scroll down just a bit further you'll be able to see how we worked out the chart in the previous post, and that was via votes cast by contributors - I doubt they somehow came together collectively to "choose" to include it. Of course I disparage someone saying they hate something without defending it - you say "I feel like it’s one of those albums so bad that it’s difficult to provide a more considered critique." ... and then you give quite a considered critique (especially for the comments section of a blog). I do expect someone to be able to tell me why they hate something, the same as I expect people to say why they love something. It's those reasons that'll inform me best as to whether I might like it or not.

Sorry, I'd only seen this post, it seems even more bizarre to me that it would've ended up in the list after a vote!

"This post is hardly a defense of Lulu – I don’t say that I like it or dislike it anywhere – what’s being discussed is the reaction to it." This is the main thing I find problematic, that this post only reinforced the idea that the only thing this album has going for it is the furore it created.

And er, I didn't really mean to give a very developed critique of it (after one listen!), I almost feel that all my points were redundant to anyone who gave a cursory listen to more than a couple of its songs...

It's not that Lulu is "shocking" to Wire readers. It's not that Lou Reed has pulled off some sort of coup and "gotten up the noses and under the skin" of hipsters yet again.

It's just that Lulu is crappy & lame album.

Following on with what Stephen has written, this feels like a moment where Wire got ahead of the lede and for all intents 'jumped the shark.' Of course any action or opinion is defensible, as the point of music and cultural writing must surely be to take sides as it were; yet the Lulu episode seems to go beyond this point.

To be perfectly honest, even trying to fit Metallica into the Wire's oeuvre gives one the shakes.

I have to say that I was surprised to see Lulu rank so high on the chart when I first saw it, despite David Keenan’s favourable review in the magazine. I’d avoided it mainly due to the fact that many perceived it as a joke. My distain for Metallica didn’t help. However, the backlash its placement received meant I was inclined to listen and I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it; it seemed more of a Lou Reed album with Metallica in the position of backing band. The seemingly improvised riffage combined with Reeds at times spluttering street- preacher-gone-mad delivery and abstract lyricism made it far more compelling than other rock albums that had gained mass critical praise. It’s grown on me considerably over the past month and I would probably regard it as my favourite rock release of last year, especially now having read up on the albums context in relation to the plays. It resonates with me through some kind of ludicrous joy: the sound of a band enjoying themselves.

I think the idea that any piece of art or music can be ‘objectively bad’ is, as suggested in the article, ridiculous, especially an album that is meant to be as antagonistically divisive (especially to the ears of the average Metallica fan). Perhaps it’s the albums seemingly paradoxical components that lead it to be harshly derided; Lou Reed’s abstract poetry too ‘out there’ for Metallica fans, Metallica’s presence alone being too much for hipster-orientated Lou Reed fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those decrying the album haven’t listened to it and just actively despise the project as a whole. This analysis isn’t helped by quotes from Reed leading up to the albums release. “Metallica's fans] are threatening to shoot me, and that's only because I showed up. They haven't even heard the record yet, and they're recommending various forms of torture and death.”

The thing that bugs me the most, aside from the perceived prejudice, is the immaturity towards the project as a whole (many youtube comments refer to Reed as a paedophile amongst other things). Even if you don’t like the album, can’t you at least you can respect such mainstream acts for doing something unique? Lou Reed speaking of his own fan following said "I don't have any fans left… after Metal Machine Music, they all fled. Who cares?" Ridding himself of expectation has allowed Reed to do as he wishes artistically, resulting in something bombastically unique, tongue firmly in-cheek.

I think people need to get over themselves and realise that some releases produce different reactions. As its musically cosmopolitan contributors conceived the poll based on individual votes, The Wire should be revered for its lack of editorial fascism. I’m sure that many other magazines aren’t as lenient with their end of year lists.

Lulu is a masterpiece. The lyrics are full of passionate energy. The music is fresh and challenging. It is a truly intense experience. It is a genuinely new sound, certainly to my ears. There is rage but it is controlled. And there is a type of sympathy for Lulu and a type of contempt for all the men who when they couldn't control her had to try and destroy her.

Last night I watched again a documentary on the British painter William Turner. Practically all the critics of his day hated his best work, particularly The Slave Ship.

I find the response to Lulu both funny and sad. But in the end, it matters little. Lulu will stand the test of time.

I liked it. James Hetfield's backing vocals are pretty awful, but other than that it's a solid album.

That some art is hated in its time and history redeems it and it is now considered excellent, doesn't in anyway mean that all art you may find terrible will one day be considered a masterpiece...all shit wont one day turn into gold. In my opinion \Lulu\ isn't \provoking\ or \daring\ but more a boring, tired, dumb piece of desperate and futile efforts of ...what? Maybe being considered avantgarde....

Truly woeful album. I think Lou Reed lost his sense of humanity around the time of metal machine music. He lives in this world where either he's 'in' on 'the joke' and the people who dislike the album are fools, or he's being serious and the people who like the album are misogynistic masochists. It's lose-lose.

I thought it was hilarious. Can't listen to it without cracking up every 30 seconds or so. Brilliant.

The cartoon metal on offer from Metallica is enough to turn me away from this amazingly weak set of forced post-taste rock. I will always be a fan of Lou,but, his use of Lars and Co. is just weak and lame. The positive reviews that I saw tried to make a case that this collaboration felt like a 21st century VU. That may be the purplest prose ever encountered in rock print and is sacrilege at the least. Allowing that it is a joke is turning a blind eye to horse-shit on the dinner table. As bad as Lulu is at least Lou isn't turning out bilious standards ala

Macca. And as for your #1 pick all I can say is I don't get it.

Truly woeful album. I think Lou Reed lost his sense of humanity around the time of metal machine music. He lives in this world where either he’s ‘in’ on ‘the joke’ and the people who either like or dislike the album are fools, or he’s being serious and the people who like the album are misogynistic masochists. It’s lose-lose.

For some of us rock'n'roll is more than just music, and Lulu's ability to annoy most everyone within earshot is commendable. I'd place it in my top ten for that reason alone.

Lulu is the first album by Lou Reed I bought since "Magic And Loss" and easily his best for the last 20 years. I got convinced after a show by Wolves In The Throne Room. They played Lulu over the PA to dazzling effect. What a beast!

Turgid Metallica riffs that constantly spin their wheels and flatline paired with more of Lou Reed's turgid "poetry." I've never been a big Reed fan although I really enjoy Metal Machine Music regardless of how it or anything else the man has produced was intended. I liked Metallica more when I was an adolescent and they haven't done anything actually worthwhile musically since ...And Justice For All and that's stretching it since they pretty much entirely mixed the bass register out of the album just to spite former bassist Jason Newstead. It speaks volumes that this made the top ten, even if for no other reason than that it seems like anyone making a defense of Metallica's contributions has not paid nearly enough attention to the amount of completely solid and worthwhile metal records released. I think it left a bad taste in many mouths for a reason, it simply doesn't justify any amount of time spent with it either for Reed fans, Metallica fans, and especially for those looking for something pushing the boundaries of contemporary sound. It's two major artists doing what they normally do piled on top of one another, with all the subtlety and nuance of a Girl Talk mash up. I hear nothing forward thinking in its entirety even if you want to make the case that it might be enjoyable music to some individuals. I wouldn't be disappointed to see this on any other year end list and I could care less how other publications rated it.

Interested in JD's final comment: "I wouldn’t be disappointed to see this on any other year end list and I could care less how other publications rated it."

Also Andrew: "even trying to fit Metallica into the Wire’s oeuvre gives one the shakes."

These comments aside, the fact that Lulu was reviewed in the Wire in the first place doesn't seem to have bothered many readers in the same way that they objected to Radiohead's cover feature in 2001 (the objection being that Radiohead's popularity alone made them too mainstream for inclusion.)

Thomas Edwards comment: "The Wire should be revered for its lack of editorial fascism" overlooks the fact that the Wire has a very strict editorial policy.

The Wire's editors fastidiously maintain the magazine's stance apart from all those more mainstream music publications, where both Reed and Metallica are arguably a better fit.

Perhaps the best way to interpret Lulu's inclusion in both the Wire contributor's and subscriber's top 20s is as a simple acknowledgement of its makers' swerve onto Wire territory. I don't think votes for Mastodon would've been welcome.

(I initially wrote a post on this for my own blog - http://dalstonsound.wordpress.com/ - but I'd be interested to see if anyone is still watching this thread and has anything to add.)

I like looking back at Wire covers passim. Next to putting Michael Jackson on the cover, putting that Metallica/Lou Reed album in their top 10 is nothing.

It's easy to forget that its core demographic is KS4 science teachers :)

Picasso's never look right (initially). Reed's rarely sound right (initially)... but since when was a genuinely original perspective bad?

Years from now 'Lulu' will be rightfully considered the parting masterpiece from a spectacularly sensitive songwriter and an unusually entrepreneurial band.

Does anyone who already appreciates Pablo & VU have a different prognosis?

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