CD Reviews

Lulu, El Camino and 50 Words for Snow

SPOKEN-WORD METAL

Lou Reed & Metallica Lulu (Warner Bros.)

Judging by critics’ hysterically negative reaction to the odd alliance of heroin-chic sheik Lou Reed and thrash legends Metallica, you’d think a giant lump of stocking coal arrived early to ruin the holidays. A collection of linked, spoken-word metal songs based on violent plays penned by a fin-de-siècle German expressionist writer, Lulu is art with a capital A, not an effort to pander five stars from Arcade Fire-inflamed reviewers. Reed, who very often here sounds like a schizo parking-lot panhandler, isn’t the easiest vocalist to digest even when he strives for melodicism. Still, Lulu pushes the doomy, Freudian tact of, say, Motörhead’s “Orgasmatron” (the earliest poetry-metal mashup) in a stronger literary direction. Metallica’s riffs are Sabbath-grade in tracks such as “The View,” an unsettling look at suicide and voyeurism, and Reed only offers the semblance of a pop hook in “Junior Dad.” But when, in the latter, he sings, “No social redeeming kindness or state of grace,” you realize Lulu is beyond good and evil, above mere “good” or “bad.” ★★★☆☆

GARAGE BLUES

The Black Keys El Camino (Nonesuch)

The Keys always had the capacity for making kickass music for people to dance to, but not until the gnarly El Camino has the Akron, Ohio, duo—guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney—committed itself to this endeavor. The punk-noise elements that once adorned the margins of the Keys sound are gone, and all that’s left is the rhythmic, howling, throttle-opened-wide heart of true rock ’n’ roll. Thanks to gritty engineering assistance from Dangermouse (he produced two of the band’s earlier records), Camino kills with 11 tracks, from juke joint-incinerating “Lonely Boy,” to stomping Led Zeppelin rocker “Run Right Back,” to dirty-blues pseudo-ballad “Little Black Submarines.” Indeed, with Camino, the Keys get behind the wheel of a rock subgenre that other bands—Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion—had steered toward more gratingly insane highways. Auerbach and Carney make it perfectly clear that all they aim to do is throw a crazy-awesome dance party. ★★★★☆

ART ROCK

Kate Bush 50 Words for Snow (EMI)

“I was born in a cloud,” sings avant-pop chanteuse Kate Bush in “Snowflakes,” the intimate and startling lead track in 50 Words for Snow. A claim to stratospheric origin is no idle boast, as the song builds upon a child’s wintertime observations until the moment when Bush’s 12-year-old choirboy son introduces his otherworldly soprano, communicating the dazzling, deranged consciousness of a vast, frozen landscape. Nevadans should get a kick out of “Lake Tahoe,” an advanced choral-cum-jazz ballad that captures the majesty of the alpine attraction. “Wild Man,” ostensibly about stalking an Abominable Snowman through the Himalayas, is another highlight and a prime example of Bush’s nutty yet transcendent risk-taking. While not at all a commercial record, Snow stands as the best Christmas album this year. Forget She & Him’s retro-Santa jingles; like the seasonal childhood game, Bush’s piano-based song cycle will leave its angelic imprint in the soft blanket of your imagination. ★★★★☆

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