Lulu may be the ultimate Goth album: steeped in art-house self-regard, mired in the vilest extremes of perversion and misery, barked out with as little human warmth as its practitioners can muster and its leaden tortures drawn out to unbearable lengths, it takes the notion of being "drawn to the dark side" to the nth degree.
Rooted in Lou Reed's fascination with Frank Wedekind's plays dealing with the character Lulu, this is an hour and a half's walk on a wild side indeed, a full-body, full-mind immersion in pain and evil, obsession and abasement. It opens with the line "I would cut my legs and tits off" and heads downward from there into an abyss of suicide, carnomania, coprophilia and masochism, via a series of erotic horror fantasies set to Metallica's chugging, lumberjack-boot riffs. The effect, its creators will doubtless be delighted to hear, is of being lashed to a sea monster and dragged to the darkest depths of the imagination.
In the opening "Brandenburg Gate", Reed sketches the aberrant leanings of the "small-town girl" keen to "give life a whirl" and indulge her baser fantasies; "The View" offers the mindset of the amoral predator to whom she becomes attracted. His lust is sated only by her suicide, which produces the third track's "Pumping Blood". The first two tracks are fairly standard Metallica riffs but the tortuous, sustained snarl of feedback behind the martial stomp-riff lends a more intriguing character to "Pumping Blood".
The ensuing "Mistress Dread" is the album's dark heart, Reed's weary croak betraying not even a hint of melody over the speed-metal thrash as he declaims masochistic urges way beyond "Venus In Furs": "I beg you to degrade me/Is there waste that I could eat?"
By comparison, "Iced Honey" finds him almost sunny of disposition, exultant in his outsiderdom, before "Cheat On Me" offers the most musically interesting exploration with a desultory organ motif and string drones settling like rust around the girders of a slow, chugging guitar riff. It also contains what seem like key lines for the album: "I have the loves of many men/ But I don't love any of them/ Why do I cheat on me?" The inference being that the person most harmed by one's infidelity and weakness is, inevitably, oneself.
It would be bearable if that were the extent of Lulu's indulgences, but the self-loathing and tank-track riffing continues for another three-quarters of an hour, until subsiding mercifully into the 10-minute string-drone coda that is appended to "Junior Dad", which at first sounds like a malevolent cloud hanging over the track but then becomes more like a chill-out period in which to recover and face the outside world.
Enlightened only by the occasional acoustic guitar passage, feedback whine or scarified guitar-noise, the album proceeds in a gruelling dark-metal manner, as perhaps befits the mingled impulses of contempt for, and self-abasement before, youthful beauty in a song like "Dragon", whose protagonist appears part-slave, part-slayer.
It is not hard to see why both parties agreed to the alliance – Metallica gain artistic cachet, Reed gains an audience – but it is not an alliance that welcomes listeners with open arms.
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