This album has several things working for it, and several things working against it. But one thing is for sure, it’s absolutely brilliant, despite being somewhat hard to listen to.
There is no commercial appeal to this album. It was clearly done as an avant-garde piece and is very abrasive, as the lyrics explore weird, grotesque and dark places of the human subconscious, often being charged with an animalistic sexual overtone. This album, however, does have some of the most talented musicians in the world backing the music, and one of the most talented songwriters ever writing the lyrics. So, one may ask why this album isn’t easier to digest? And the conclusion that I’ve come to is that they did not want it to be easy. This album is by no means trying to appeal to the favored ideas of the masses. However, it does realize the artistic vision that it sets out to create.
For example, the song “Little Dog” has a brilliant acoustic guitar part, with Lou Reed speaking poetry over it (as he does with all the songs throughout the album). If one were to read the lyrics as they listened, they would have an appreciation for the brilliant prose poetry that Reed has written, not to mention one cannot help but be impressed by the instrumentation of all the members of Metallica. However, as with all the songs on this album, this song tends to drag. In fact, as a combined piece, the album (spanning two discs) is close to 90 minutes long. Reed would have benefited from cutting the more repetitive parts of the lyrics, as they are mostly spoken word anyway.
The song “Iced Honey” is reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Berlin album, with its rock and swing roots. However, it could have benefited from sticking to this formula a little more, as the spoken word seems awkward over the driving music and what could be categorized as half-sung choruses. Reed, who is approaching 70, has lost a lot of the dynamic quality of his voice and it seems a little out of place is the songs that have a more pop sound to them on this album.
Lulu is not so much a rock album, but rather a book with brilliant heavy metal instrumentation in the background. It is not listener friendly, as stated earlier, and honestly it would have benefited from not trying to completely alienate its listeners. One of the obstacles that the listener will encounter when approaching this album is it unique quality. The listener needs to approach the album from a different viewpoint. The whole album is about reframing perception, but due to its obtrusiveness, the album gives no center for the new perception to be framed around. That being said, if one is looking for the danceable grooves of Lou Reed’s Transformer or the metal insanity of Metallica’s Ride the Lightening, then they are looking in the wrong place. However, if one is looking for an intelligent, introspective, and off-putting literary piece of art, then Lulu is probably right up their alley. And just as Reed’s Berlin received very little positive reception at first, but was later recognized as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, Lulu, while off-putting, will cement its place in rock history as a brilliant experiment.