Ride The Backlash: Guest Blogger Kiko Jones Reviews Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu

The First Essential Scary Truth

One of the things that many seem to forget about music criticism—or that of any piece of art or artistic exercise made for public consumption—is that analysis and appreciation should be independent of one’s enjoyment of said work. The merits should supercede the disdain or disappointment it might provoke and the drawbacks should not diminish the pleasure it might bring. In other words, liking it doesn’t necessarily make it good or vice versa. Which should be one of the tenets of basic Music Criticism 101. It’s surprising how many times scribes don’t even come close. Simply unforgivable.

Yet, those of us who are both musicians and write music criticism can be guilty of a certain degree of this transgression. One could argue we are a bit more susceptible to being apologists due to the intimate awareness of what it takes to create within a musical realm. While this is no excuse and its proliferation should not be condoned, it’s an aspect of criticism that needs to be addressed since pushing it aside is hypocritical at the very least. But, without a doubt, having the experience of what it takes, from the ecstasy to the disappointment and every thing else that entails making music, this can be very valuable insight that should not be taken lightly, either.

Three years ago, when Guns ‘n’ Roses finally released their incredibly long-awaited ‘Chinese Democracy’, I got some grief from quite a few of my readers for a review which they felt granted the album undue praise and simply didn’t rip it to shreds, as it allegedly deserved. In reality, I clearly stated the record had quite a few inescapable flaws and miscues and was absolutely nowhere near the kind of album the GnR fan base deserved after a 17-year wait. It was a slightly above average record, to be sure, but ‘Chinese Democracy’ had 2 things going for it that were undeniable: at its best, it recalls the creative heights of the band’s past; and Axl Rose made the record he wanted—record company, fans, bandmates, management, press be damned. And as an artist myself the latter resonated deeply, especially in this time of music and movies being a Madison Ave. commodity; focus grouped to death before they’re actually even completed. Regardless, I did not recoil from pointing out the album’s obvious and damaging faults. And now, as the great Yogi Berra once said, it’s déjà vu all over again.

‘Lulu’, the recently released collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica has been met with almost universal condemnation by critics and fans alike. (Reed stated in USA Today he’s been the recipient of threats of bodily harm and even death by Metallica fans. We’re talking Lou Reed here, so there’s a chance this statement could be another manifestation of his legendary dark humor. But still, c’mon peeps, chill the fuck out, yo.) Even a cursory listen is enough to deduce this was not an endeavor imbued with contemplations of artistic doubt or commercial considerations: ‘Lulu’ is not an easy listen or one made with the intent to pander in any way, shape or form. And like Rose with ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Lulu’ is clearly the album this pairing intended to make. “Fuck you, if you don’t like it”, seems to have been the rallying cry. This is no throwaway, on a lark-type hang: these guys were serious about what they were doing and it shows.

But as laudable an artistic statement as this may be, albums do not exist in a vacuum; certainly not one made by two undeniable giants of popular music. (One of whom has already released what my esteemed host Mr. Zola considers “the greatest fuck you in American musical history.”) ‘Lulu’ is abrasive, indulgent, and at times, falters in the most spectacular of ways. Tellingly, there are moments in which the album comes across as Reese’s Pieces, while at others it’s chocolate and peanut butter kept in 2 separate areas of the same room. And, as its initial reception has clearly demonstrated, it has pissed off fans of both camps. Then again, as we all know, neither the bard and chronicler of Gotham’s seedy underbelly nor the Bay Area metal legends are novices when it comes to confounding and irritating their followers. And at this point in their respective careers, why should they give a fuck about playing it safe? ‘Lulu’ is the intended result of their collaborative efforts and we should take it or leave it. That’s it.

Years ago, I was riding with a bandmate and pseudo former Deadhead who tried to turn me on to some live Dead. Driving around immersed in conversation, at one point I was lured into some of the most transcendent music I’ve ever encountered…followed by some of the worst dreck ever recorded by actual musicians. I’ve related this anecdote to every Deadhead I’ve subsequently met and, surprisingly, they’ve acknowledged feeling the same way numerous times. ‘Lulu’ doesn’t reach those aforementioned heights although it occasionally does approximate those lows. As such, this is not an album to be taken lightly. If you care about either or both of these artists you owe it to yourself to give ‘Lulu’ its due time and attention. At best, you might be rewarded by its more agreeable moments. At worst, you’ll have ample and valid reasons to denounce the damn thing.

Personally, I’m still digesting the record. Of course, I’m the guy who eventually defended and, for the most part, enjoyed ‘St. Anger’ (and the unrepentant noise fest that is Pat Metheny’s ‘Zero Tolerance For Silence’). So there’s that.

Kiko Jones

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