A Short Defense of Lou Reed’s Final Album Lulu

Lou Reed and Metallica, Lulu (2011)

The topic of the highly controversial (to put it mildly) 2011 collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica appeared recently on the Steve Hoffman music forums. Having written a lengthy essay in defense of Lulu, I thought I would share a few short thoughts on Reed’s final album:

Lulu is an excellent album that was unfairly mauled by critics who really, REALLY, hated the idea of Metallica making an album with Lou Reed. It all smacked of high school clique warfare. This group can’t hang out with that group, that sort of thing. I’ve always felt that if Lou made this album with, say, Radiohead, and every note was exactly the same, it would have been praised as a masterwork.

In addition, I think many people became used to this image of Lou Reed as a tame, safe “NPR” artist. He was remembered more for his poppier ballads and mellow songs, and not for the angry, abrasive, atonal and openly shocking music that he created. Everybody remembers “Perfect Day” but forgets “Berlin,” “White Light/White Heat” or “Metal Machine Music.”

To be fair, Lulu is an extremely abrasive album. It is scraggy, ugly, unshaven and angry, like an old gunslinger who just knocked down three shots of whiskey before the shootout. Much of the material is shocking, both musically and lyrically. This is not an album that you can play every day, or even more than once or twice per year. It’s an event, not a habit. It sometimes feels like an assault, and you come away in a state of stunned shock, almost like those first audiences who saw The Exorcist or Psycho in the theater.

Personally, I love this album and consider it one of Lou’s finest statements. As a farewell album, it’s absolutely magnificent and stands equal to David Bowie’s Blackstar. It will always be controversial and spark fierce debates, which is most likely what the author intended. What better way to go out? Say what you will, but nobody could accuse Lou Reed of going soft in his old age.

Oh, and Junior Dad is a beautiful song, especially the long cello outro. It’s the perfect farewell and you couldn’t ask for anything better.

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