[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
No one could believe Lou Reed and Metallica were making an album together, and when Lulu dropped two months ago critics gleefully crapped all over it. Pitchfork called lead single “The View” “repellent” and referenced “Reed's crotchety, atonal poem-rants.” The AV Club called the work “transcendentally bad,” noting “Reed's love of perversity and Metallica's love of shooting itself in the foot.” Perhaps the best snippet of snark came from Entertainment Weekly, who described Lulu as “your dad's drunk friend reciting his self-penned erotica over a melting ReLoad cassette.” As if that were a bad thing.
Critics not getting a Lou Reed album is nothing new, however. The only person singing Reed's praises during his golden years was Lester Bangs, remember; everyone else jumped on the bandwagon later after Velvet Underground was deified. And let's not even get into Metal Machine Music.
But they were wrong then, and they're wrong now. Lulu is easily the best Lou Reed album of the past 20 years — and the best Metallica album in that time period, as well. In fact, it's the number one album of 2011. Seriously. It's a beautifully noisy mess that synthesizes the cream of Metal Machine Music, New York and post-Black Album Metallica. No other band this year offered such powerful, furious noise. And that's largely because no one else could have pushed Metallica to take serious chances. Some of Lulu's best moments come when Reed hollers orders at the band, reducing them to little more than session musicians. He's entitled to. He's Lou Fucking Reed.
Lulu is great, in part, because it isn't just a collection of tracks. It's an album with a capital “A” — a double-album, in fact — and if you're not listening to it all the way through you're missing the point.
Moving from low-key acoustic riffs to powerful, violent fits of noise, the work ends on a somber, melancholic note with the cello-infused, 20-minute epic “Junior Dad.” After 90 minutes of musical ups and downs — coupled with the terrifying tale of a young girl's callous attitude toward her own defilement — you're exhausted. And that's precisely the effect Lou Reed and company were going for. Lulu is a sort of musical equivalent to Requiem For A Dream, which is why it's not surprising that Darren Aronofsky was tapped to make a video for “The View,” below.
Mark my words: In 20 years everyone will claim to have loved this record. Like the best Lou Reed albums, Lulu is rock and roll as high art, something like the Great American Novel in record form. Even better — Reed has somehow given Metallica a new reason to exist.