There is a strange phenomenon in music whereby artists are forever championing their own lesser works as their favourite. Bob Dylan picked the middling Shot of Love as his favourite Dylan album, and Leonard Cohen opted for the solid record Recent Songs that pales in comparison to his classics, and so on, and so on. The whys and wherefores of this oddity are hard to fully chisel down, but it has proved utterly infectious over the decades of pop culture.
However, usually, when an artist is highlighting someone else’s work, a viable option comes to the fore. As close friends and personal heroes to one another, David Bowie might have certain biases when assessing Lou Reed’s back catalogue. Nevertheless, you certainly wouldn’t expect him to sidestep the endless slew of classics that Reed offered up as both a solo artist and with the Velvet Underground and opt for a choice so laughable you’d have to worry about whether Bowie’s mind had bent into some Burroughs oblivion and become as abstract as the concept of love.
When Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson was speaking at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, she said, “One of [Lou’s] last projects was his album with Metallica,” when addressing his collaborative album Lulu, if indeed you can call it an album, it’s more of a sonic dirty protest against unknown sacred principles of decency, in most people’s view. “This was really challenging, and I have a hard time with it,” she correctly identified.
However, Bowie had a different view, as Anderson explains: “[He] made a big point of saying to me, ‘Listen, this is Lou’s greatest work. This is his masterpiece. Just wait, it will be like Berlin. It will take everyone a while to catch up’.” Well, the years have ticked by now and the album is still yet to springs its ‘this isn’t actually dog dirt’ eureka moment on the masses.
Sounding like a lobotomised Velvet Underground experimenting with heavy metal in the same way that the youth recently experimented with eating tide pods. It excels when it comes to inducing a migraine, however, if you aren’t inclined towards cranial trauma then you may well be rapidly pleading for the sweet mercy of silence. As pleasantly in tune as the cackling cry of abandoned babies in the creche, it is as musicologically coherent as the first round of the X-Factor.
There are a few contrarian folks out there other than Bowie who say, ‘I actually like it’, but I am yet to find anyone who continually listens to it beyond that mad time when they tried to scare a hangover out of their head. In fact, I had a friend claim he played it on the building site boom box once and a man who was jackhammering turned it off claiming that ‘even noise polluters are entitled to seek out the human right of peace’.
Lyrically the themes are apparently about rage—you can say that again. In fairness, Reed’s words on the record may well stand up to his scintillating best where he blazed a trail so brilliantly that the world is still reeling from it. However, it proves so hard to listen to that it would be like driving along still trying to absorb the prose of Yukio Mishima on an audiobook as your car careens off a cliff.
I can tune my ears to the words in the first song for a brief moment as Reed rattles off niche literary references like a first-year student determined to impress upon a tutor that he has been visiting the library. Thereafter, following an offensively horrible start, the whole thing peters off towards a realm so nightmarish that if Dante was to rework his Inferno for modern times, then listening to Lulu would surely be reserved as a circle of hell.
N.B. this piece is overblown for some weekend fun, and I am well aware that Bowie may well have just been his usual sweet self. Nevertheless, Lulu remains an odious oddity in the unbelievable bounty of the Velvet Underground man’s brilliance that serves up the worst of both worlds from Metallica and Reed. If you’re going to defend one of Reed’s rare misfires then at least make it the unfathomable Metal Machine Music, that way you can argue ‘You just don’t get it, man’! And enjoy Reed at his best below.