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Lou Reed is the 'weird guy' of the Seventies, but there's really nothing particularly weird about him. The problem is that since his work with the Velvet Underground he's been mistakenly categorized as a 'proto-punk idol' which isn't even a part of the whole truth, since it's simply wrong. The few punk elements that Lou really inserted in his compositions were usually limited to extensive use of feedback which you could call 'psychedelic' as well, and his lyrics. Essentially, Lou is just a singer-songwriter, and a bit more ambitious and definitely a bit more audacious than most. His "street philosophy" is far more tasteful and refined than that of, say, Bruce Springsteen (although the comparison isn't exactly justified due to Lou's never taking himself as a "working class hero"), and his intriguing brand of rock poetry makes him my second favourite singer-songwriter after Dylan - even some of his worst albums are saved by the fact that he never cheapened his lyrics unless it were an intentional hoax.Funny enough, it is exactly the lyrics that also led him to a short period of flirtation with such a trivial genre as glam rock in the early Seventies - all these gay and S&M themes that Lou was exploring in all sincerity were highly appropriate for shock-posturing glam rockers, and he even stirred some interest in David Bowie who produced his second, and the most glammy, album of all, Transformer. After that, however, and a suceeding stint at a public glam image trhat lasted for about two years, Lou seemed to abandon any hint at a stable style, and went off flirting in all directions, rather like Neil Young: industrial noises, conceptual rock operas, acoustic folkish romances, and Fifties' nostalgia all have the equal chance of being met on a certain Lou Reed album. This makes it extremely hard to draw any definite conclusions about the man, except for the obvious - his being a vastly experimental person. Over the years he's produced quite a solid load of crap, along with a not less solid load of gems, and messed with so many genres that he just can't be categorized. His personality is quite mysterious, too: while the theater nature of David Bowie and the 'heart-on-a-sleeve' nature of Neil Young are evident, most of the time it's really hard to guess Lou's message. He can be deadly serious and playful at the same time, and nearly every record will leave you standing on your head trying to think what kind of thing the guy really wanted to say. One of the reasons, I guess, is Lou's famous voice: gruff, wheezy, cold and never emotional - if there's one rock star to be described as 'the dude who never smiles', it should be Lou. This cold, emotionless approach to music really gets on my nerves sometimes, to the point of my wanting to just let him fuck off and discarding all his records. But I admit that's something really silly to do, and anyway, why should one always lay his soul bare in his songs? That's up to the artist to decide. On the other hand, Lou Reed is a great songwriter - perhaps not in the same league as the Beatles or Townshend or Bob Dylan (whom he often tries to imitate), but in a class of his own. His earliest solo records, when he was still fresh off his position in the VU, are chock-full of catchy, memorable tunes with solid melodies, and his unique style of blending garage rock with a special German sensitivity had no analogies. Unfortunately, his material began to seriously decline in quality later on, but should that surprise us? Name me a 'dinosaur' who was consistently good in the Eighties... If anything, it's Lou's relentless productivity that earned him the hate of many a snub-nosed reviewer; but just as it happens with other overproductive artists, such as Jethro Tull, for instance, we shouldn't forget their real true merits. And Lou has a lot of those; at least his Seventies' catalog is consistent enough to gain him as much "solo artist" recognition as he usually receives it as member of the Velvet Underground. Anyway, I'm not a big expert in the worst records of Mr Reed - I don't have them, and so I wouldn't want to particularly blasphemize Lou until I've had a chance to get some serious listens; for now, I'm just concentrating on his first, 'young' solo period - arguably the best in his career. Eventually this page will include all of his albums, at least I'm hoping - if I live that long. If I live long enough to survive listening to a couple dozen crappy Lou Reed albums, that is. Jes' kiddin', of course. They might be magnificent. Let's wait and see, shall we?
Listenability: 3/5. Metal
Machine Music, anyone? Okay, that's just one album, but Lou's been
taking unwarranted risks too often.
Resonance: 3/5. It flounders and floats very much from album to album.
Originality: 3/5. More like a wagon-jumper than anything else, but his image is so unique anyway...
Adequacy: 3/5. See "Listenability".
Diversity: 5/5. He was willing to try anything at least once.
Overall: 3.4 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A quiet, almost 'nostalgic' debut with only occasional bursts of conscience, this is pleasantly inoffensive.Best song: BERLIN
Track listing: 1) I Can't Stand It; 2) Going Down; 3) Walk And Talk It; 4) Lisa Says; 5) Berlin; 6) I Love You; 7) Wild Child; 8) Love Makes You Feel; 9) Ride Into The Sun; 10) Ocean.
Lou Reed's first solo album is often carelessly overlooked in favor of Transformer, his much more well-known 1972 glam-rock 'masterpiece', but it's a shame, because this particular record is quite good. It's not a particularly great listening experience, of course. But it's one of those quiet, stripped-down albums with a share of moderate, but carefully crafted rockers that turn out to be close to magnificent at close listen. If you're a big Velvet Underground fan (more exactly, a big fan of the VU's early period - as far as I know, later VU albums were more close to Reed's solo efforts; unfortunately, I just haven't heard 'em), you're well advised to stay away from this album - you won't find any of the wild, reckless experimentation here, and you won't find no S&M lyrics or direct drug references either.Instead, Lou mainly focuses on three subjects. First of all, it's his usual brand of social critique, albeit quite moderate in the current case ('I Can't Stand It', 'Wild Child'). Next, his usual brand of psychoanalysis and self-bashing ('Going Down') or others-bashing ('Walk And Talk It'). And finally - a big surprise: a large percent of the songs are just plain love ballads, with a slight trace of nostalgia now and then ('Berlin', later recycled for his 1973's album of the same name) or with a slight trace of philosophy ('Love Makes You Feel'). The lyrics are good, but sure as hell, nothing on here is groundbreaking. Come to think of it, what kind of lyrics could have been groundbreaking in 1972? Oh, and of course I forgot to mention that about half of these songs are from his past - some, in fact, have later cropped up on VU (the 'great lost Velvet Underground album' that I have never heard). What really makes you feel so good about the record are the melodies, of course. Oh, and the general atmosphere. The album is anything but depressive, and yet, there's something sad in the air when you go and listen to it. Even such songs as the gentle country ditty 'Lisa Says' convey a slightly darkened mood - maybe it's due to Lou's usual gruff voice? Maybe it is. Personally, I just plain go nuts over that weird 'oh nooooooo' in between the backup females chanting 'Lisa sa-a-a-ys!' The song itself is very reminiscent of contemporary Dylan (you know, the kind of Nashville Skyline Dylan), but maybe even better - due to the superior instrumental backing (by the way, both Caleb Quaye of Elton John's fame and Rick Wakeman of Rick Wakeman's fame back old Lou on this album). And isn't it fun to hear the slow country tune suddenly develop into a faster jazz groove halfway through? Then there's the rockers - the simple, garage-like stuff that you probably won't hear on any other 1972 record, like the downright great 'I Can't Stand It' and the slightly less memorable, but still fun 'Walk And Talk It'. Lou Reed must have been the only chap not to be afraid to record such kind of songs - bare, stripped down rockers with not a single wink neither to glam nor to heavy metal - in 1972. 'Wild Child' is mostly interesting lyricswise, but it's still danceable and certainly a good cure from, say, Close To The Edge, if you ever vow to listen to all the notorious records of 1972 in a row. My best bet, though, is on the wonderful, absolutely flabbergastingly, jigsawpuzzlingly great ballad that might seriously be his best (not that I heard a lot, so I'm not making definite statements here, hear that?) 'Berlin' starts out as a weird, slow, piano-driven cabaret showtune; I still can't decide whether he's aiming at the Hollywood or the German style here, but must be German, after all - otherwise, the tune would probably be named 'L. A.' Add to this the usual German intonations of Lou's voice that he's had from the very beginning, and you get yourself an unexpected pseudo-German lounge ballad (I say 'pseudo-' because it's much better than any real German lounge ballads). However, as soon as the song drifts into the chorus, the German intonations are gone, and you get yourself a passionate, warm, emotion-filled nostalgic plea that strikes me as maybe one of the most emotionally-charged bits of music of the early Seventies. That 'I'm gonna miss you now that you're gone' bit moves me to real tears - and old Lou Reed has his own special ways of driving a person to tears (see 'Sunday Morning' for further reference). The album ends a bit weaker than it starts, with the lacklustre 'Ocean' where, for once, Lou's voice betrays him and goes down to the depths of shakiness and off-key-state. (Then again, maybe I just have a personal incompatibility with that particular intonation). This is however compensated with the magnificent ballad 'Love Makes You Feel' - maybe the simplest song on the album, both lyrics- and melody-wise, but it gains from this simplicity, rather like John Lennon's 'Love'. And don't you love that moment where he sings 'Love makes you feel ten feet tall/And it sounds like this' and rips out a chaotic ringing solo? Finally, I feel I'm slowly becoming a big fan of 'Ride Into The Sun', a quiet little pop rocker with some enthralling guitar interplay and a very complicated vocal melody - Lou sings in several keys and goes from one section to another with such natural ease that you just don't notice the different parts replacing each other. In all, this is a brilliant debut album, and the fact that it's practically out of print in the US... ah wait, I'm not gonna complain about that because I already stated this complaint for half a dozen albums. Get it wherever you can - I have a deep feeling that it will satisfy both the lovers of punk and prog, because this is a rare, brilliant moment where both ends meet. Dang it, there ain't a bad song on here! Okay, so I said I disliked 'Ocean', but that's just because Lou didn't bother to clear his throat before recording. That's it to you - always clear your throat before singing! And carry a couple of bottles of sacred water around!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Reed going pervert once again? Whatever your emotional reactions might be, the songs are still mighty fine.Best song: VICIOUS
Track listing: 1) Vicious; 2) Andy's Chest; 3) Perfect Day; 4) Hangin' Round; 5) Walk On The Wild Side; 6) Make Up; 7) Satellite Of Love; 8) Wagon Whee; 9) New York Telephone Conversation; 10) I'm So Free; 11) Goodnight Ladies.
Lou Reed's glam rock album? It's not me who made that up - that's an opinion widely shared by critics, and they do bring up vital arguments in favour of it. However, most of the 'glam' here turns out to be superficial at close look. Of course, it is no small coincidence that the album was produced by Lou in close collaboration with David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson (the latter also contributes a fair share of guitarwork and is even responsible for the strings arrangements). And the fact that the album is filled to the brim with themes of homosexualism, perversion, sexual bitches, etc., etc., etc., not to mention the album title and the album cover, also contributes to the general delusion. One must not forget, though, that most of these lyrical topics were essential to Lou's creativity long before Bowie started getting draggy and the term 'glam rock' was even coined. And even if Bowie did leave a slight imprint of his personality on some of the songs, he was in no way such a patron and creative godfather to Reed as he was for, say, Mott The Hoople. This is a real Lou Reed album - and it has as much to do with glam rock as, for instance, Peter Gabriel and Genesis: you could argue that Genesis were a glam band, but apart from certain theater elements in their show, there was not much of a glam influence in the band.Musically, the album is a little less interesting than the unjustly underrated debut - which might be due to the fact that Lou had nearly emptied the barrel of Velvet Underground outtakes (only 'Andy's Chest' and 'Satellite Of Love' got recycled) and finally got around to the necessity of composing a complete record by himself and on his own. Basically, it's just a little underarranged and devoid of hooks: I just don't see as many interesting melodies as on the previous one. This is, however, mostly compensated by the weird, dark atmosphere that Lou weaves around his compositions, transferring a potentially perfectly normal pop album into a gloomy tale of half-legal night clubs and the down side of New York's night life. His voice is in perfect form, and bad and wheezy as it might be, it's certainly the ideal instrument for conveying these dark feelings - and providing them with enough sincerity and conviction to forever ban this record from the glam category. The moderate rockers here are 'Vicious' (my personal favourite, though for no obvious reason, it seems) and 'Hangin' 'Round', groovy but not very memorable foot-stompers: the best thing about them are again lyrics, incredibly smutty and almost sacrilegious on the latter and incredibly funny and almost stupid on the former ('Vicious/You hit me with a stick/But all I've got is a guitar pick' is my fav line there). There's also the anthemic, rambling 'I'm So Free' - the loudest and clunkiest on here, but not very entertaining. Anyway, it isn't the rockers that make the record - the most important stuff is usually stripped down, peppered with tubas and harmonicas to get that lounge jazz/German cabaret sound again, and combined with Lou's voice, becomes almost magical. This includes the hit 'Walk On The Wild Side' (although I'm still baffled as to how could a song that mentions giving head become a hit), with its horrible dirty imagery set to a quiet little shuffle and Lou's gentle 'doo doo doo's that almost suggest that there's nothing bad going on. I'm also a big fan of 'Make Up', the one where Lou proudly announces that 'we're coming out of our closets': it's probably the closest he got to imitating that German sound (except for 'Berlin', of course), and it sounds so generic that it's almost ingenious. And, of course, in order to appreciate the 'concept', one has to take some close listens to 'Andy's Chest' and the ridiculous piano groove of 'New York Telephone Conversation' - a song where Lou plays the jerk so convincingly that you can't help being totally sucked in by the very fact! Still, in between the 'conceptual' songs are sandwiched some beautiful ballads that continue developing Lou's romantic side along the unforgettable lines of 'Sunday Morning' and 'Love Makes You Feel'. 'Perfect Day', with its 'Berlin'-style atmosphere, quiet, Dylan-ish singing, and gentle piano chords moves me to tears, and 'Satellite Of Love', while some might call it a trifle cheesy, actually features a magnificent arrangement - the vocal harmonies on the choruses are superb, the jazzy bits are tasty, and the melody is right there - it's just that you have to wait for it. And what a better way to end the record than to sign it with such a flourish as 'Goodnight Ladies' - one more cabaret send-up with perfectly innocent, yet fascinating lyrics about lonely Saturday nights and sucking lemon peels? Even if you hate this loungy type of music, you could still be enthralled by Lou's style on this one - the melody is as generic and ripped-off as possible, but it's the combination of the melody with the lyrics and the vocal tone that makes this listening experience unforgettable (actually, this applies to the record as a whole). And don't forget that this sounds nothing like the classic Velvet Underground - punk lovers, please do not bother! This is lounge music, not your standard three-chord rock!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
As far out as could be - Lou Reed producing his version of Cabaret????Best song: MEN OF GOOD FORTUNE
Track listing: 1) Berlin; 2) Lady Day; 3) Men Of Good Fortune; 4) Caroline Says; 5) How Do You Think It Feels; 6) Oh Jim; 7) Caroline Says; 8) The Kids; 9) The Bed; 10) Sad Song.
An overall rating of 10, I feel, is not going to satisfy anybody - there is really no middle ground. You will either deify this record, calling it one of the richest and most wonderful chef-d'ouevres that modern music has managed to produced, or trample it under your feet all the while spitting out curses and lamenting over the fact how you'd like to punch the fat ass of the guy who told you Lou Reed was the archetypical proto-punk.One thing's for certain, though - Berlin ain't for everybody. It's also quite unlike anything Lou Reed had ever done before or since, and I'd even go as far as to state with all certainty that the album has no analogs in rock music at all. On a basic level, this is a 'rock opera' about a romance between an American dealer and a German drugged-out courtisan - they meet, they fall in love, they marry, they make children, they quarrel, they part their ways, they leave the kids with the father, they rave nostalgic, and then the story ends - what a great subject for a neo-realistic film. Or, wait, didn't we see the first part of this story in Cabaret? Why, as a matter of fact, we did - life goes on and on, you see! What makes the album so special isn't the storyline, of course, but the atmosphere of the album. Even though it is recorded with a cast of thousands (Jack Bruce of Cream and Tony Levin of the future King Crimson on bass, B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum on drums, Steve Winwood on organ, etc., etc.), the arrangements are again mostly stripped down, but this time it is not the stripped-down-ness of a New York S&M club or a ghetto bordello, as in Transformer; it is the stripped-down-ness of a psychological record, brimming with emotions, both sincere and fake, with a strong German flavour. Sometimes it's just Lou sitting all alone with his guitar ('Oh Jim') or piano (title track), but more often the atmosphere is created with eerie effects - a gloomy church organ in the background, a barrage of heavy, bass-emphasized piano chords, some echoey, leaden vocals, a distorted block chord now and then, you know, that kind of stuff. It all combines to make a record so depressed and tragic, so utterly pessimistic, almost apocalyptic, that even Quadrophenia sounds like 'Ode To Joy' in comparison. If you can't stand slow, lethargic, gloomy records, don't even think about buying this, no matter how much your friends praise it. The big problem is that the actual songs seem to be a little neglected in favour of the mood and the lyrics - although, to be honest, the record does contain some of Lou's most hard-hitting lyrics ever ('Men Of Good Fortune', 'The Kids'). The tunes are very rarely memorable, their structures transparent and feeble, and the melodies often diluted in a sea of noises or disorganised piano chords. The title track, recycled from Lou Reed, is a perfect example: the formerly magnificent nostalgic ballad with a heart-breaking chorus is given a piano-only arrangement and a careless, almost off-key vocal treatment (not to mention that only a short snippet of the original actually made it to the re-recording). Same goes for such songs as 'Lady Day', the story of the protagonists' meeting, that picks a little steam only during the choruses. If you're looking for rockers, look elsewhere: 'How Do You Think It Feels', with its aggressive guitar part, is probably the closest to a rocker on here, but it's also the song that fits in with the mood least of all. So my best advice is to accept the album as it is - relax and try to give yourself in to the enchantment that Reed clumsily casts upon you. If you succeed, you'll find quite a lot of pleasure and sometimes even catharsis in these songs. 'Men Of Good Fortune', for instance, evolves from a slow, typically Lou Reed-style humming into a raising scream of protest; 'Caroline Says' is tender, sad, and moving, with its lyrics about the breaking of relationship between the lovers; and the centerpiece of the whole 'opera' seems to be 'The Kids', a fascinating tale of the mother's separation from her children complete with real kids weeping and crying 'Mummy!' - a tale that, when delivered in Lou Reed's casual, but here very Bob Dylan-ish wheezing tone, assumes an almost universal meaning - classic! Yeah, kids, this ain't rock'n'roll in the faintest degree - slow song after slow song after lethargic song after hypnotic song, and not a real rock riff in sight. And I admit it's hard, what the hell, at first listen it must be pure torture to sit through the melancholic 'Caroline Says (part 2)', then endure the pessimistic 'Kids', before being submitted to the nostalgic 'The Bed' (with an unbearable, angel-voiced coda that reminds me of the 'Crucifixion' scene in Jesus Christ Superstar) and the romantic, universalist 'Sad Song', all of which go off at the same tempo (super-slow) and apparently feature only rudiments of melody, all of them based either on a sloppy acoustic rhythm track or a falling apart set of piano chords. But real art isn't always easy to endure, friends - and this is real art, no doubt about that. The question is whether the game's worth it - will you be morally rewarded for trying to endure this? Well, I still am not: I can't really get used to the atmosphere and the lack of melodies, and I guess I will never be, unless I find something in my life so that I could identify myself with one of the heroes (hope I won't). But the album is still very good - those who are able to fit in the groove will never want to part with it. The lyrics are clever, the arrangements are perfectly suited for them, and the production is just what is needed for this kind of conception. Now... LET ME GO TO SLEEP before I write another idiotic word-combination!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A live glam rock album, is it? A little bit heavy on the guitar-wanking side, but remember - this guy came from the VU!Best song: WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT
Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Sweet Jane; 3) Heroin; 4) White Light/White Heat; 5) Lady Day; 6) Rock'n'Roll.
Isn't it ironic that Lou Reed's best-selling album was a live one? And not just a live one - an album packed to the brink with live versions of old VU standarts. Apparently, this was the public's muffled expression of what it really felt about Lou disbanding VU. Of course, it's soothing to see that Lou wasn't going to discard his past and saw no problem in taking his VU legacy on board. But the funny thing is, this doesn't sound like the VU at all! Oh, how the clever nostalgic public was probably disappointed (and how the not so clever contemporary public was probably filled with awe).Instead, Lou goes for a gimmicky, loud and dazzling sound - most of the entertainment is provided by constant guitar duels courtesy of hired-guns Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. It isn't even mentioned in the liner notes if Lou plays guitar himself - I highly doubt it, seeing as he rarely played anything on his previous solo records. And on both the front and back covers he is pictured as a show-off-ey, highly maked up, well, 'rock'n'roll animal'. This is definitely a glam show, and a glam rock record - the guitar sound is heavy but not thoroughly sincere, and from the very 'Intro' where Hunter and Wagner enter the stage playing dazzling (and highly professional) guitar licks off each other, you're in for a true show - the songs take on an almost 'monumental' feel, most of them being sped up, cranked up, puffed up and blown up. Yeah, that's right. All of this is just spectacle, of course, but, as with the best examples of glam rock, it's high-quality and extremely entertaining spectacle. A metallized, arena-rock-adjusted version of 'Lady Day' is the only Lou Reed solo tune that made it to the album (more of his solo numbers cropped up on the later Lou Reed Live, though), and it's easy to see why: the general mood of the 'brilliant show' is in no way compatible with the quiet, stripped-down, modest moods on his solo records. 'Lady Day' is, in fact, the worst cut on the album, especially if compared with the far superior studio version on Berlin. On the other hand, the VU tunes have suddenly proved to be much more adaptable - the two short and the two long numbers on here rock mercilessly and are thoroughly enjoyable even in their lengthiness. Of the short numbers, the speedy, raving, punkish version of 'White Light/White Heat' is the best, with enough kick-butt energy to equal and probably surpass the studio version - I mean, instead of the Velvets' intentionally sloppy, dirty approach, you witness a tightened up, crunchy rocker, with an almost AC/DC-like riff holding up the song; but 'Sweet Jane' is quite decent as well, once you've gotten past the lengthy intro featuring the guitarists' talents. The main emphasis, however, is placed on the two lengthy cuts - 'Heroin' and 'Rock'n'Roll'. While I can't admit to liking this version of the latter too much, and the repetitive jam at the end gets way, way too long, I certainly lift my thumbs up in favour of 'Heroin' - the version here is much more thought out, inspired and professional than the sloppy original. The multiple sections of the song are quite diverse, the famous speeding up on the refrain is exercised in a series of different ways, and the song's twelve-minute length is almost perfectly justified in that you never know what is going to happen next. Crisp, hard-hitting guitar parties abound, the occasional organ solo (Ray Colcord is on keyboards) is cute, and Lou's vocals are sharp and distinctive as well. If anything, the song receives a real 'rock-out' treatment - a thing that was sorely lacking on the original; I know VU purists might crucify me for this statement, but unless you're a VU purist (and most VU purists I've had the chance of meeting on the Web were absolute freaks, so I'm not speaking on their behalf), you're bound to agree with me. As for 'Rock'n'Roll', it kicks just as much ass as everything else on here; I'm not too sure if there was any real point in extending the song so drastically - Hunter's repetitive wah-wah riff, for instance, simply has no reason to stick in your ears for so long without any other instruments backing it - but on the whole, it forms a dazzling and highly suitable ending to the show that's supposed to highlight Mr Reed as the Rocker to outrock everybody else. Who could have thought that this highly commercial, so straightforwardly crowd-pleasing record would be followed by Metal Machine Music just a few years later? So, even if the album is by no means essential, it's probably a must for all Lou Reed studiosos - turns out that the man's live edge and studio edge around 1973-74 were two different things. And if you're dissatisfied with Reed's German-style ditties or pretentious conceptual musings, this is the album to own - flashy and kick-ass. Rock'n'roll, dude, rock'n'roll to the core. Plus, the production is near-excellent (funnily, it might even be better than on his contemporary studio records), and the coolest thing - which often goes unnoticed - is that Lou never even says a 'thank you' to the audience. Snubby son of a bitch, ain't he?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Lou's "decline" into commerciality? Or just a set of snappy amusing tunes?Best song: KILL YOUR SONS
Track listing: 1) Ride Sally Ride; 2) Animal Language; 3) Baby Face; 4) N. Y. Stars; 5) Kill Your Sons; 6) Ennui; 7) Sally Can't Dance; 8) Billy.
This one definitely adds to my list of "underrated/misunderstood" mini-classics. It is always given a particularly bad rap by critics - some go as far as to call it Reed's absolute worst studio album! - but in my humble opinion, it has more to do with the circumstances of the album's release than the music itself. Apparently, Sally Can't Dance was Lou's "commercial tribute" to his record company for allowing him to get away with Berlin (he took revenge on everybody with Metal Machine Music the very next year, though!). They wanted an accessible, easy-going, cool-sounding album that would sell really well, and this is what they got. Lou himself was never happy with the record, and it has entered history as "the sellout album".Well - this is no more of a sellout than, say, David Bowie's Let's Dance a decade later. It's got female backup vocals, and it's got horns - big, ugly horns at times - and it's got a thick full sound (occasionally!), and that's what makes people say stupid things like "this is where Lou Reed was pandering towards the lowest common denominator", somehow forgetting that in that era, the lowest common denominator would be symbolized by Gary Glitter, or, at best, the Sweet, and Sally Can't Dance has absolutely nothing to do with both. In fact, I'm not ashamed to say I like this record more than Berlin. It's hardly any more melodic than Lou's grim grumbly epic (not that many hooks within the songs), but it has tons more energy to it and besides, it's a puzzling and intriguing record - with Berlin, you had it pretty much laid out in front of you, while the exact point of Sally can really make you wonder. You got mock stuff like 'Animal Language' resting beside a sincere nostalgic piece of reflection like 'Billy', and comic tongue-in-cheek pseudo-glam like the title track next to a vicious hard-hitting rave-up like 'Kill Your Sons'. The album may be a 'sellout' in that instrumentally, it follows the rules of the epoch, but it is totally and absolutely self-conscious, and instead of idolizing these trends, it ridicules them. Seriously now, how is it even possible to 'hate' or 'despise' a song like 'Animal Language'? It's friggin' HILARIOUS! A story about the death of a dog and a cat and their meeting in paradise and all kinds of weird goings on there, together with Lou bow-wowing and meaouwing (not very authentic, I may add) and silly overblown brass solos! Think it stupid if you wish, but it's well-crafted, entertaining, friendly stupidity. Absolutely the same goes for the title track, which is pretty catchy in addition. Utterly dumb, but a good laugh. And cool guitar licks all over the place, just like I love to have 'em in my glam - tasty, sweaty, stingin', sleazy, you get the drift. And totally adequate, I ain't giving you no bull. That said, the best "triad" of songs is still jammed right here in the middle. 'Baby Face' is ominous and creepy, in maybe an Alice Cooper-ish kind of way, but Lou's patented nasal vocal tone really gives this somewhat simplistic separation tale some kind of edge - seriously now, I do think that a simple guitar/piano background with lounge overtones gives Mr Reed way more conviction than the musical-style Ezrin production. Glam rock my ass. If things like 'Baby Face' are glam rock, then Bob Dylan is glam rock. A little bit of 'theater', maybe, but then again, Lou has always had that theater vibe in him. Then there's 'N. Y. Stars' which is definitely glam (distorted guitars! echoey vocals! yeah baby!), but the tune draws me in anyway, even if I have absolutely no clue what it is about. Something dirty, I'm sure, and the 'faggot mimic machine' line means no good, but who can actually tell... How in the hell can such a dangerous-sounding song be a 'sellout' or 'pander to the lowest common denominator' is something I have yet to get instructed about. And then, of course, there's 'Kill Your Sons'... okay, I can possibly tell how Lou could be accused of imitating Alice Cooper with that one, all the horror image and all the evil atmospherics and everything. But geez, Alice Cooper's evilness was pure shock-rock value (Alice was actually far more "socially relevant" when he/they were toning down the 'evil' notes), whereas 'Kill Your Sons' is actually dedicated to a valid social issue - you can guess it from the title - not to mention the great melody and that ferocious echoey soloing that really goes down well. Finally, there are 'softer' songs like 'Ride Sally Ride', 'Ennui', and the nostalgic 'Billy' - not at all memorable, but they strike me as pleasant sincere ballads that aren't particularly great pluses but sure ain't no minuses either. And so? Here we get to the end of the album, and not a single tune I'd frankly call bad. Simply put, you couldn't find me a good musical reason to let this album down if you wanted. It simply fell victim to the old 'downgrading' trick - whenever an artist steps from the "high pedestal" to make something more "lightweight", he's slammed as "selling his talent" or "engaging in pointless genericness" or some other crap. Yes, this album is nowhere near the depth of Berlin, but keep in mind that the depth of Berlin is not an objective truth in itself, it's actually questionable. For me, though, the true question is not "is this deeper or more shallow?"; the question is "is this self-conscious and adequate or is this a lame ignorant misstep?". And you know, sometimes I get the feeling that judging by this second criterion, Sally Can't Dance fares somewhat better than Berlin.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
The closest anybody ever actually came to recording that proverbial "album of fart noises".Best song: METAL MACHINE MUSIC PART 3. Why part 3? Because if you've reached part 3 and you're still alive, you can take on the Devil.
Track listing: 1) Metal Machine Music Part I; 2) Metal Machine Music Part II; 3) Metal Machine Music III; 4) Metal Machine Music IV.
In early 1975, the record company was pressing Lou Reed down for the next album. Being in a particularly negative streak of mind, and surmising (with good enough reasons) that the industry guys were just trying to further cash in on his name, Lou Reed issued this. And got out of his contract.If you've heard five seconds of Metal Machine Music, you've heard it all. Four sides, each occupied by a fifteen minute sonic sequence called 'Metal Machine Part [1-2-3-4]', each of these sequences consisting of nothing but loud, gruff waves of electronic feedback. Arguably, this is the biggest "fuck-you" in the musical world ever offered by a musical superstar to his record company, his fans, and maybe even himself. The "music" never changes. Lou is definitely the master of feedback, and over the years has used his power over that gimmick in many truly creative ways (and is still using it, as evidenced on Ecstasy). Here, however, there's nothing creative about it, as the feedback isn't used in contrast to actual "songs", but is fully and totally independent of anything else. The liner notes, providing a detailed specification of the equipment used during the recording, in one place directly state: 'No Synthesizers. No Arp. No Instruments?' And in another place: 'Rock orientation, melodically disguised, i.e. drag'. What else needs to be said? Not even Lou himself actually thought anybody could sit through all of the four sides in one sitting (he himself certainly could not). In my younger years, I, of course, would just call it "absolute shit" and that'd be that. Now that the perspective is broader, before slagging off Metal Machine Music, one needs to try and understand the very purpose of that album. And no, I'm not referring to the kind of mock-snobby pretentious freaks that proclaim this album as some of the greatest music ever written, emphasis on the word music. This is, by all and any means, NOT music. Not even according to its much broader avantgarde definition. This isn't really sonic exploration, because while making the record, Lou wasn't going after any new sounds - this kind of feedback was quite well-known already. This might be taken as a minimalist statement, but that doesn't make it listenable in any way either. This is not an album to listen to. This is an album to possess, but it's definitely not an album to listen to, unless you want to clear out a party or something. This is an artistic statement, though. It's a certain push-it-to-the-limits kind of thing, and I'd classify Metal Machine Music as a 'happening' rather than a musical event, which could and should be judged alongside such other 'happenings' as Jim Morrison exposing himself onstage and Keith Moon crashing his car into the swimming pool, among others. And in the middle of these, Metal Machine Music sits all snug and comfy, not to mention not being connected with any particular risks to one's health or legal status, although, of course, with some risk to critical reputation - yet even here Lou Reed turned out to be the winner, as that reputation grew better and better with the years as more and more noise and industrial and even punk bands stated the album as a big influence. It's hard to say if Lou is actually ashamed of the album or if he is proud of it himself. Sometimes he hints at it being nothing more than just a fuck-you to the bosses; sometimes, like in the CD liner notes, he goes into profound philosophizing on how MMM is 'real' and represents a real 'letter' of his to the people. And I probably would be confused, too, had I made an album like this. My guess is that the original way he felt about the record was the first one, and all the vague philosophizing was added on later as he had to write something 'meaningful' about the record before issuing it; and mayhaps, these pretentious liner notes were one of the factors of why MMM, unsurprisingly, began attracting attention from the more 'far-out' part of musical audience. And thus, I will treat the record according to its original, and primary, message - as a sign of musical defiance and unprecedented rebellious attitude. In that way, I guess Metal Machine Music as an anti-conformist 'happening' deserves nothing less than a 10/10. It really took guts to do something like this, a lot more guts than it took Yes to churn out their Tales From Topographic Oceans. And it also provides all the music-discussing public with a real live example of that "violently anti-musical album", such as an album of fart noises or tuba-puking or whatever, which always comes up in any arguments about what actually is music and what actually is not music. Is Metal Machine Music that far removed from an album of fart noises? It's right up that same alley. But enough of my rambling... just rush to your nearest musical store, buy the sucker, pop it into your CD player, turn the volume up to the max, and press the headphones as close to your ears as possible. If anything, MMM is just the greatest friggin' masochistic aural experience ever known to mankind! I know, I tried it myself. And it paid off - I started to think better of Yoko Ono in the process! PS. As I finished this review and, morally exhausted by the effort, went to the fridge to grab a sandwich, I heard the fridge making the exact kind of noises as captured on some of the album's passages. I swear I'm not lying. Must be that crazy heat or something.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
The closest Lou has ever come to creating his own, near-perfect Dylanesque style. Peaceful, gentle, clever and moving.Best song: CRAZY FEELING
Track listing: 1) Crazy Feeling; 2) Charley's Girl; 3) She's My Best Friend; 4) Kicks; 5) A Gift; 6) Ooohhh Baby; 7) Nobody's Business; 8) Coney Island Baby.
Amazing. Once again, Lou reinvents himself - this time he concentrates more on the 'romantic' side. This, rather short (about thirty five minutes long), album simply consists of songs with simple love thematics: simple, that is, by Lou's own standards, because such a smart guy can't really write simple love songs, now can he? The arrangements are all stripped down, the glam element is gone completely, but no signs of art-rock complexity either - Berlin this record ain't, for sure. Now you can kill me and you can sue me and you can sneer at me, but for Heaven's sake I don't understand why I like this album so much. The problem is, there just aren't that many distinctive melodies - after all, how many distinctive melodies you can actually produce when you're just sitting in the studio and absent-mindedly strumming your guitar? Most of these songs are simply what we'd call 'streams of consciousness': some have verses and choruses, some prefer not to have them; some have lots of lyrics, some have the same lines repeated over and over; some happen to have hooks, others have none. And throughout the whole record he mostly sets the same groove - a simple rhythm guitar track, often acoustic, sometimes electric, quiet spare instruments like gentle slide guitar or an occasional piano, and soft, unobtruding drumming. And the vocals, of course. People who are allergic to Reed's vocals, better stay away - they're always the center of attention.So what can explain the high rating of this record? Dunno. I just like it, that's all. Right, now, stop this, let me try to think of an explanation. Hmm... I guess it has something to do with the atmosphere, right? And the vocals, of course - I can just imagine this album sung by, say, the Byrds (what a disaster!) Lou really gives the record style with his usual German intonations, and it's probably the best place to start if you want to compare his style with Dylan's. Throughout the record, he shakes, quivers, trembles, hits bad notes, stutters and mutters - and it all works, everything works, right up to the last note! Have you heard 'Kicks'? It rules! It's the one where Lou explains his need to get 'kicks' and does it in such a groovy, paranoid manner that it's simply fascinating! The song is a bit jazzy in structure (a pretty jazzy guitar plays some delicious licks in the background), and Lou almost improvises the vocals, turning the song into a proto-hip-hoppy jam that culminates in Lou shaking and howling and almost going crazy - 'I ne-ne-ne-ne-ne-ed some k-k-k-icks...' Another extremity is the magnificent 'A Gift', a song that says and means so much with so few means that, once again, I'm stumped. How does 'e do this, man? And what lyrics! 'I'm just a gift to the women of this world.' And, of course, the immortal lines: 'Responsibility sits so hard on my shoulder./Like a good wine I'm better as I grow older.' That's about the only lyrics that keep being repeated over and over, plus those backing vocals that repeat them even more in a creepy whisper over a simple, unadorned backing track. I mean, what a great musical idea! And how much does it suggest! Don't ask me what exactly it suggests, please - it's simply ultra-cool, and a thing that couldn't be tackled with so much sincerity and emotional power by anybody but old Lou. Then there are the 'faster' tracks. 'Ooohhh Baby' and 'Crazy Feeling' are both tasty as a fresh-made lollypop, especially the latter that has some miraculous slide guitar - you know, the kind of licks that only George Harrison could master in his prime. A great embellishment for this upbeat, quirky pop tune - another proof that Lou was, above everything else, just a talented popmeister. But then again, the song would probably fade to nothing wthout that wonderful slide, eh, what the hell, it's the best slide I've heard in quite a long time, and it's been a long long long time since I last put on a George Harrison record. Been too busy with my Rod Stewart reviews, understand that? How many times do you have to go through a Rod Stewart record to make a sincere, objective review? Actually, one will do, but each one causes a nervous breakdown... ...anyway, what's the deal about Rod Stewart, I was talking about Lou Reed here who actually gets the same overall rating as Rod but that's just because Rod used to be good, not worse than Lou by any means. However, never in his sweet short life could Rod come up with a record as cool as Coney Island Baby. And I haven't yet mentioned the title track - a slowed out, romantics-drenched, tune on which Lou simply ad libs his lyrics without singing them, but it still sounds so great... come to think of it, he rarely sings at all. Can you call the things he does 'singing'? He recites all his songs! He recites here, too, a long, fascinating story about his passion for football and about the glory of love, set to generic female backing vocals. It's moody, intriguing and gentle, and from time to time elevating to a passionate climax - especially in the end, where Lou finally mentions his 'Coney Island baby'. To sum it up: a record whose existence I can't either understand, explain or justify, but I love it dearly anyway. A couple of songs are relative throwaways here ('She's My Best Friend' still does nothing for me), and the style is so monotonous that it might sometimes get dull when you're not in the mood, so it's not a ten; but if you're in the mood, count this a ten. A glorious artistic statement by the best man in the world to reproduce the classic Dylan vibe without really imitating Dylan at all.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978Record rating = 8
Lou's reaction on the Sex Pistols, this? Hmm...Best song: STREET HASSLE
Track listing: 1) Gimmie Some Good Times; 2) Dirt; 3) Street Hassle; 4) I Wanna Be Black; 5) Real Good Time Together; 6) Shooting Star; 7) Leave Me Alone; 8) Wait.
Every usual review of this album will start telling you about how Street Hassle was Lou's response to the punk movement, and how it was a sincere statement and a great frustrated record and easily his best since Berlin and stuff. And you know what? Sometimes usual reviews can be right!Of course, Mr Reed is too smart to go ahead and write a straightforward punk-rock record or something like that. In fact, I would be in the minority of those who would like to argue there's no unbridgeable gap between a record like this and, say, Sally Can't Dance. Look at the light reflected on Lou's shades, for God's sake! Tell me that ain't a throwback to his glammy image! Now go listen to the actual music. These are slow songs, slow, grungey, with fat heavy distorted rhythm guitars, and with female backup vocals all over the place! How punk is that? Heh heh. Now don't you worry, in case you hated Lou as a glam-rocker, this album ain't at all similar to Sally Can't Dance. For one, it has no silly humorous throwaways, and in general, it is far more angry and spiteful than that album could ever hope to be. In fact, it's pretty hard to believe that Street Hassle and Coney Island Baby have been made by the same person... but then again, that's Lou Reed for you, you never know what to expect from the old fella. So! What we have here, for the most part, is a collection of slow/mid-tempo grumbly rockers that are usually very angry and feature a lot of four-letter words for those who are always ready to get offended. Of course, it ain't Sid Vicious or anything - the four-letter words are used in a nice context. But even so, I wonder how come the record is still being carried around in stores if it features something like 'I Wanna Be Black', whose first verse goes like that: 'I wanna be black/Have natural rhythm/Shoot twenty feet of jism, too/And fuck up Jews'. EH? That supposed to be funny? Well, maybe it is, I dunno. Maybe it's even TRUE! What worries me more is that the song is not too interesting melodically. Then again, not too many are... Lou really doesn't give a damn about any kind of melodic impact on here, but that's all right. When listening to this stuff, orient yourself on the vibe, catch the good rowdy atmosphere, and you're off. 'Gimmie Some Good Times' begins with Lou self-sampling 'Sweet Jane' and then proceeds into Lou imploring us to give him some good times and some pain - naturally, what a better time to ask for pain than the late Seventies? And just to let you know he's dang serious about it, the next song is 'Dirt', where we are informed that we are 'a pig of a person' and which contains hidden allusions to the Stooges (name of the song, the 'you're dirt!' shouts) and the Clash (quotation from 'I Fought The Law', even if he does mention Bobby Fuller's authorship). And then there's the star bashing (I suppose?) of 'Shooting Star', and just a general piss-off message in 'Leave Me Alone', which has a particularly groovy guitar-and-sax poisonous assault on one's psychics, not unlike the one Peter Hammill used a few years earlier on Nadir's Big Chance (actually, the Lou Reed of this period has a lot in common with the Peter Hammill of that period - all up to the singing). Anyway, all of these songs are moderately good, although they hardly stand out on their own. Obviously, it was the punk movement that successfully put Mr Reed back into 'angry' mode, but he certainly had the good taste not to borrow back the style of the Pistols or the Clash - instead, he returned to the kind of music he was partially responsible for creating, himself, simply making it grittier and rougher. Listen to the coda to 'Leave Me Alone', HELL! He hasn't been that gritty since... uh... since 'Sister Ray', I guess. Okay, no, maybe I missed something. But anyway, if you had been waiting for Mr Reed to let his hair down for quite a long time, consider your dream fulfilled, even if he does end the album on a pretty light poppy note - the funny friendly 'Wait', where Lou sings 'I really wouldn't want your hate' as if apologizing for all the potential offense that is present on here in spades. But wait! I haven't yet mentioned the title track! 'Cuz it's different. Doesn't actually fit on the album at all if you axe me. An eleven-minute long three-part suite that is heavily based on a strings part - string quartet on a quasi-punk record? Spare me! To tell you the truth, I don't even know if the three parts are related... is the 'waltzing Matilda' that gets screwed in the first part the same as the passed out gal in the bar in the second part or not? Who knows? All I know is that there's no way 'Waltzing Matilda' could not be an allusion to Tom Waits (see Small Change), as this three part suite has definite Waits overtones (I'd almost say Springsteen overtones, but my tongue's too thick!) to it... the narrative is pretty weird, but the guitar and strings riffs that go along with 'em are quite compelling and almost hypnotizing in a certain way. Really gives you something to think about. Of course, 'Street Hassle' (the song) does fit in with the rockin' rest of the album, when you start to think about it - it's Lou Reed prowling on the New York streets again, telling his little sick tales of frustration, perversion, and insert your favourite nasty word here. So don't let the strings and the length fool you. Just take the album as it is, as a whole - unlike The Bells that followed it, which was, quite au contraire, a totally disjointed collection. I don't really understand why I gave this stuff an 8, it has too few treasurable melodies and absolutely no innovative value, but I guess I just love it when Lou's being rough and tough instead of simply being preachy or instead of going all sloooooow and mooooody (Berlin, anybody?). He does it so naturally I could have sworn he could make records like these one after another, like AC/DC, and still have a huge fanbase.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Loud 'n' rampant. Widely bizarre and incorporating late Seventies production. Tons of fun, too. Can you summarize this record in one sentence?Best song: CITY LIGHTS
Track listing: 1) Stupid Man; 2) Disco Mystic; 3) I Want To Boogie With You; 4) With You; 5) Looking For Love; 6) City Lights; 7) All Through The Night; 8) Families; 9) The Bells.
Another one of those records that critics like ripping each other's throats about, this one caused perhaps the biggest polarization in public opinion since Metal Machine Music, and naturally so: those who were so much addicted to Reed as the humble, stripped-down street philosopher, or to Reed as the sneering garage rocker, or to Reed as the stern icy glam icon, had to go through yet another nervous breakdown as Lou veers into all kinds of Seventies' excesses, including disco, Fifties' retro stuff updated for the decade, and unambitious, er, 'club music' in general. Thus, everybody either loved or hated this album, and there's a very slim chance of your finding a review that doesn't rave about this stuff or doesn't spit on it.But hey, this is what my site exists for! Tired of exaggerations? You wanted the best (aka the most level-headed, normally-articulated, and disgustingly boring and yawn-inducing as well), you got it! Now it ain't a clear case, of course - I don't like all of the album, and it gets a very moderate rating, too, but I sure as hell disagree with those that present The Bells as a particularly low spot in Reed's career. What I personally see is yet another vastly experimental and, this time, quite diverse, album that does have some missteps, but hey, most vastly experimental albums do. The record is really loud and uprousing, but not in a 'metallic' way - the guitars, in fact, are rather subdued, with the main accent placed on keyboard work by Michael Fonfara and expert jazzy saxophone playing by Don Cherry. Not that it's really a jazz-rock album, actually; lots of tunes do have a 'lounge' atmosphere to them, but most of them sound so sloppy - sloppily played, sloppily recorded, you name it - that Lou's garage roots really show through on everything. Apart from one track, arguably one of the strangest in the entire Lou Reed catalog. I love the goddamn track. It's called 'Disco Mystic' and it's simply hilarious. No, it ain't disco, more of a 'funk rock' sort of instrumental, but if Reed's aim was to make fun of the entire disco movement, he couldn't have come up with a better candidate anyway. It's just four minutes of a repetitive synth-based jam with Lou and the backing band alternately chanting 'disco, disco mystic, disco, disco mystic', with an intentionally superdumb 'dance-style' synth riff underpinning everything. I don't know why I like the thing so much - perhaps just because it's so tremendously dumb, and I like tremendously dumb parodies. Brilliant arrangement, too. But on everything else Lou seems to be intentionally losing control - and I do mean it, as he loses control over everything: playing, production, lyrics, singing, hey, whatever. The lyrics on most of these songs actually strike me as stream-of-consciousness kinda stuff or traditional lyrical cliches meshed in with irregular splashes of Lou's trademark lyrical brilliancy. Same goes for the singing - sometimes he takes care of it, sometimes he just mumbles, sometimes he gets off key, sometimes he actually gets ON key. If your main fetish is stability and consistency, this will be a very irritating listen to you - I virtually hated the album on first listen, but as the 'groove' sets in, you'll feel all relaxed and giddy. Highlights, for me, include the moving Charlie Chaplin (and all the tramps) ode 'City Lights', done in a quirky R'n'B style and featuring Lou's most expressive low growl on the entire album ("expressive", in Lou's case, mean "completely expressionless", as you understand); the upbeat and punchy 'Looking For Love', featuring retro motives and a wall-of-sound sax-based production gimmick; the wonderfully catchy, funny and charming 'All Through The Night' (some complain about the ongoing party conversation that Lou dubbed over the main track, but I don't really mind it apart from some bits that stick out too much in the mix); and the slightly more intimate, deep-felt monologue on family relations in 'Families', although the song hardly deserves its six-minute running time. There's the problem of the title track, of course - Lou's 'homebrewed' version of 'Revolution #9'. Essentially, it's just a nine-minute nothing that consists of a set of minimalistic spooky bass runs, disjointed atonal sax blasts a la King Crimson, a Goth-inspired synth pattern putting everything together, pseudo-mystical 'creepy' whispering splattered all over the place, and finally, at some spot Lou actually steps up to the mike to blurt out a batch of lyrics that, as he himself was proud to announce later, were more or less improvised on the spot. So much for spontaneity. Does it work? Objectively, it doesn't; all that pretentious Goth stuff has been done better and earlier - heck, you wanna have a stern Germanic-influenced death-related tune, you go buy some Nico, or if you're a less tolerable kind of dude, go buy some early Roxy Music, at least. But on some level, 'The Bells' is certainly unique in its own way; it's more of an 'ambient' panorama than of an actual song, and taken as simple background music, it really does put you in a philosophic mood. Heck, it can actually make a Nietzsche out of you! Easily. The problem is, it really doesn't fit in with any of the other songs and would work far better in the context of, er, Berlin, for instance. Too good it comes on at the vqery end and doesn't mar the album's flow. In any case, the record is not a Lou Reed classic, but it's close - and I, for one, have always been kind to Reed taking on a new experimental edge. He's that kind of guy. Like David Bowie. Oh, I know Bowie was more consistent and wrote (though only slightly) better melodies, but if you can forgive Bowie for being experimental, you can do the same thing to Lou. You CAN.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8
Aw, not too good. A lot of life philosophy, which may or may not speak to you, and a definite lack of care for the music.Best song: THE POWER OF POSITIVE DRINKING
Track listing: 1) How Do You Speak To An Angel; 2) My OId Man; 3) Keep Away; 4) Growing Up In Public; 5) Standing On Ceremony; 6) So Alone; 7) Love Is Here To Stay; 8) The Power Of Positive Drinking; 9) Smiles; 10) Think It Over; 11) Teach The Gifted Children.
Lou entered the Eighties completely 'ready to suck', as might be said. It's not that he was being misled by robotic, technophilic production, a thing all too common for elder stars in the decade; it's just that it was much and much too hard for him to remain on the leading edge of musical innovation. Just take a look at this record. You might notice these hardly impressive numbers that I put up there in the beginning and think that I completely condemn this album as a rotten one or something. Actually, not at all: I don't really mind listening to this stuff, just as I don't really mind listening to, say, Bob Dylan's contemporary stuff (although he did release his worst album ever that year). It's fairly decently produced, too - the band is stripped down once again, with the main emphasis on a couple electric guitars and the rhythm section, and only Michael Fonfara's annoying synths manage to spoil the picture from time to time. Plus, the record is not too long: eleven cuts, none of which go over four minutes, so if you don't like a song, chances are it'll go away before you even have the chance to express your disappointment.The problem is, there's hardly a good song here you'll like in all. And a major problem it is, as the tracks on this record hardly even fit the definition of 'song'. Much more often, it's just pieces of entertaining or not that enetertaining monolog set to a certain musical backing. 'So what's the deal?', you'll say. 'It's Lou's usual approach - mumbling out his life philosophy to some musical backing or other.' True, of course, but there comes a time, every now and then, when the formula begins to get on your nerves, especially when there are next to no musical ideas at all to back it. In the past, Lou used spare arrangements as well, but he always managed to make them moody and enthralling enough to fit in with the words and the overall message. On Growing Up In Public, the music seems kinda... in the way, if you know what I mean. In the way of 'poetry'. I can easily imagine this album not having any music at all - you know, just 'Lou Reed-ing Poetry'. No cool vocal harmonies here, no delicious slide guitar, no lounge trumpets, no impressive guitar solos; like I said, the only musically significant element here are Michael Fonfara's synthesizers which mostly stay in the background but sometimes get into the spotlight a bit too much and give the song an ultra-banal Eighties' feel which it really does not need at all, as in the case of the pathetic instrumental break on 'How Do You Speak To An Angel'. Growing Up In Public is basically a concept album (big surprise) about, well, growing up, whether it be in public or not. Thus, it happens to contain more than a fair share of autobiographic songs, rendering it perhaps the most important self-describing album in Lou's career. The more personal song thematics range from first youth reminiscences ('How Do You Speak To An Angel') to rough parental relations ('My Old Man') to problems with establishing social contact (title track) and, well, the themes are many and they're not all that unusual for an autobiographical cycle. The lyrics are also nothing really special: 'My Old Man' even borders on banal, if not for the somewhat unexpected ending. I mean, most of this stuff is nice, but then again, so are hamburgers. I'd come to expect something more deep and thought-provoking from Lou: this autobiographical cycle is to, say, Coney Island Baby as the Kinks' later obnoxious rock operas are to their early deeply intelligent and sharp concept albums. On this here record Lou is probably at his best when the songs are quiet and relaxed; my favourite is the pleasant little reggae-ish shuffle 'The Power Of Positive Drinking'. It might feel out of place on the album, as it's essentially a funny throwaway - come on now, how come a song with lyrics like 'Some say liquor kills the cells in your head/And for that matter so does getting out of bed' belongs on here? But I love it all the same. Then there's 'Teach The Gifted Children' which (a) closes the album (so you're particularly grateful to it), (b) clocks in at 3:20 (so you're able to breathe with relief), (c) has by far the most interesting lyrics on the album (so you say: 'He's smart! He kept the best bit for the end!'), and (d) tries to sound very emotional and climactic and maybe even cathartic, but fails, because the message is definitely unclear (what's the whole business with 'take me to the river' really about?) and the musical backing is monotonous and boring. So you say: 'Yeah, he's a genius, but he sucks!' None the more so than on the faster numbers, though - 'Smiles' and 'So Alone' just bug me, especially the latter where Lou gets extremely hoarse and implores you to 'shake your booty' in that exact intonation. Nah. The only other tracks which I can remind as possessing interesting moments are the title track, that had a strange trumpet-imitating synth riff over it, kinda reminding you of the old Transformer days, and the already mentioned 'How Do You Speak...' with its weird time changes and twisted refrains. Everything else is simply forgettable - take Coney Island Baby, substitute all the subtle instrumentation and romantic mood with emotionless, noodling generic guitars and dreary whining and you get Growing Up. Forgettable. Whew. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the album cover for CIB and this one. See the difference? Same goes for the music.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Autobiographic reminiscences backed with impressive guitar duets - really cute.Best song: HEAVENLY ARMS
Track listing: 1) My House; 2) Women; 3) Underneath The Bottle; 4) The Gun; 5) The Blue Mask; 6) Average Guy; 7) The Heroine; 8) Waves Of Fear; 9) The Day John Kennedy Died; 10) Heavenly Arms.
Hey! We're back to good! This is everything that last album promised to be, but actually wasn't! It even managed to win high critical praise, despite the fact that it was probably the last of serious "artistic successes" for Lou for the entire duration of the Eighties. Kind of like Tug Of War was the last artistic hooray for Paul McCartney in the early Eighties. Principally, the subject of the record is more or less the same: it is chock-full of Lou's autobiographical lyrics, straightforward and sometimes even straightforward to the point of him entirely losing his usual poetic vibe, but I guess everybody is to be allowed to make at least one record like that in one's life, especially if one has actually deserved it.However, Lou's lyrics are almost always qualifiable; as you understand, the major difference between Reed's albums lies in whatever mood the guy is in at any particular moment and what kind of people he wishes to collaborate with and who he turns the production reins over to. This time around, he ditches all of his former colleagues, including The Abominable Synthman Michael Fonfara, and teams up with the Voivoids guitarist, Robert Quine; all the guitar/bass playing on this album is credited exclusively to Reed and Quine, plus Doane Perry (later to join Jethro Tull!) supplies the drumwork, and a certain Fernando Saunders supplies some backing vocals. That's all. No horns, no keyboards, no marimbas, no glockenspiel. Just Quine's guitar in one speaker and Reed's guitar in the other, and a drum guy - and this minimalism produces amazing results. In the liner notes, Reed proudly states that 'this album contains no instrumental overdubs', although he admits to overdubbing the vocals, and I can certainly believe that. So, a spontaneous, stripped down, brutally honest and open record, and featuring Quine's unique guitar style at that. And all kinds of musical styles - you have it all from pop to heavy metal to blues to folk to gospel. And great lyrics. Which makes it one of the easiest nines I've ever a-given out to Mr Reed. Oh, and a cool album cover, too, except that I do not quite understand why the hell did they need such an obvious hint at Transformer: the music really has little to do with Lou's glam stage, not any more, at least, than with any other. Not all the songs on this album have been created equal, but even the weakest of the material really grows on you after a while, and there's something interesting going on all over the place, so maybe I'll ditch the generalizations and just go over this song by song. 'My House' opens the album on a sentimental folksy note (the hardest one for Mr Reed as he keeps straining his voice and missing the right notes), being dedicated to the memory of Delmore Schwarz, Reed's main poetic guru of the past - it even tells of Lou and his wife having a spiritual seance calling out Delmore's spirit! The track completely lacks Lou's usual tiny shield of sarcasm and irony, so one could easily shove a silver pin in the guy for that, but have pity on the confessing dude. Then there's 'Women', continuing in the same gentle mood and professing Lou's love for the gentle sex, in a far more humble mode than 'A Gift', if you wanna know. 'Underneath The Bottle' shifts the tempo to mid and employs poppy overtones to tell of Lou's troubles with the green devil (by 1982, he finally managed to overcome drugs-and-alcohol dependence, so we have to take the song as a reminiscence rather than a direct cry from the heart... I guess?). And then, finally, 'The Gun' is the first really creepy, really amazing composition - "The man has a gun, he knows how to use it/Nine millimeter Browning, let's see what he can do/He'll point at your mouth/Says that he'll blow your brains out..." (the last line murmured in a particularly nonchalant, almost caressing tone, which makes it all the more scarier). Lou's and Robert's guitars create a quiet, half-whispered environment, and Lou's simple, minimalistic lyrics, heck, I think they're about the best possible lyrics to describe the simple idea - the fact that we are so dang addicted to violence and brute force we take it for granted. 'Animal dies, with fear in his eyes... don't touch him, don't touch him... stay away from him, he's carrying a gun'. Yeah, right. Finally, side A ends with the first violent outburst of feedback and sweeping metal riffage on the record, the title track. More about violence and torture. It doesn't make its point as effectively as 'Gun', but the double blasts of feedback from the guys' guitars are something to be remembered all right. This is pure grunge, in fact, so eat your heart out, Mr Eddie Vedder! (You know I don't like addressing the dead, so my claim goes out to Eddie). But then the second side opens with the music hall influenced 'Average Guy' which is pretty much what it bills itself as - funny the song wasn't a hit, but I guess most average guys aren't really prone to admitting to be average guys - and 'The Heroine', which steps away from the autobiographic/confessional phase a bit to unravel a strange tale of a baby lost in a thunderstorm waiting for 'the heroine' to come. A pure acoustic ballad with but Lou and his guitar. 'Waves Of Fear' is another definite highlight and another pseudo-metallic tune with very untrivial guitar tones (think Mendelssohn gone hard rock, no less!) and a blistering solo from Mr Quine - he goes from isolated paranoid guitar 'licks' (more like 'squeaks', I'd say) to all-out trills and barrages of chords that assault you like a swarm of hungry locusts or something. But I might like 'The Day John Kennedy Died' even more, a brilliant and touching Dylan-esque saga (in fact, it shares the vocal melody with 'I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine', and that song has always been one of the most effective tear-jerkers in my life), although the poetic idealization of Mr Kennedy seems a bit strange to me, but whatever, it just has to do with Reed's younger days. Finally, the best is saved for last - 'Heavenly Arms', with slight gospel influence, is simply a beautiful ode from Reed to his then-current wife Sylvia... I can hear Lou strain to hit these high notes and sometimes fail, but this time I just don't give a damn, because the vocal melody is gorgeous anyway, a great climactic moment of uplifting hope and everything that goes with it. It's perhaps the only moment on the record where I'm a bit saddened by the underproduction - I think a stupendous instrumental crescendo wouldn't at all be out of place - but rules are rules, I guess, so no need to transgress them. It's still beautiful, and the most perfect ending to one of the best, and definitely the most personal and all-embracing record in the Reed catalog. Like I said, not all of the songs are equally memorable, and not all of the songs take optimal use of the Reed/Quine partnership, but minor defects are minor defects, and you weren't expecting me to give an Eighties' Lou Reed record a perfect score anyway, now were you?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Eulogy to Andy Warhol. Ever heard anything of that one?Best song: WORK
Track listing: 1) Smalltown; 2) Open House; 3) Style It Takes; 4) Work; 5) Trouble With Classicists; 6) Starlight; 7) Faces And Names; 8) Images; 9) Slip Away (A Warning); 10) It Wasn't Me; 11) I Believe; 12) Nobody But You; 13) A Dream; 14) Forever Changed; 15) Hello It's Me.
A weird album, this one. Apparently, it wasn't even Lou's and Cale's original desire to write a cycle of songs describing the life and deeds of Andy Warhol: the liner notes say the record was 'originally co-commissioned by The Brooklyn Academy Of Music and The Arts At St Ann's'. The funny thing is that they performed the task as best they could. The practical issue was that Reed and Cale finally got together, and this led to a short-time revival of the Velvet Underground a few years later. However, far more significant is the theoretical issue: Songs For Drella is certainly a unique project, an album that will be extremely hard to assimilate for the non-converted and certainly hard to assimilate for those who don't give a damn about Andy Warhol, because, let's face it, the lyrics that Lou had come up with aren't certainly universalist - they are very personal, referring to Andy's own world and Lou's feelings about Andy. In other words, this is a 'poetic biography' of a crazy artist, written by another crazy artist and performed by two crazy artists: a task that's indeed hard to take. But please, do not judge the album too harshly - it's much, much too easy to fling the CD into the corner after the first listen as a piece of worthless, pretentious crap which it isn't on second listen. No, this is no great shakes, and Lou had done better concept albums before - Berlin is a good example - but this has something that Berlin never had: a sense of realness, a feel of authenticity and deep, moving care. Now I really don't know anything about Andy Warhol that I'm not supposed to know as part of the general 'curriculum', and I certainly don't know anything about Andy's relations with Lou apart from the well-known fact that he 'produced' the Velvet Underground's debut album and paired the band with Nico. And a lot of the lyrics are simply ununderstandable to me, for this and other reasons. But they work, and it's a fact.All of these songs - though quite often it's simply impossible to call this stuff 'songs', more like monologs set to music - sound as if Lou and John recorded them over the course of two hours in somebody's bedroom. Most often, it's just Cale sitting at his piano and Lou strumming his guitar - sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric. No drums, no bass, nothing - a few viola lines and a few moody synth backgrounds are all that deviates from the formula. But the formula itself is pretty cool. Have you ever heard a song that consists of an electric guitar/piano duet with no rhythm section at all? I mean - at all? Ah now that's groovy. Plus, it often sounds very very Velvet Underground-ish: remember their freak outs on the early albums? Only here they never experiment with the song length or anything. My favourite is 'Work' - a song where Lou babbles about how work was the main principle of Andy's life and how he used to blame Lou for not having written fifteen songs instead of ten. It has that strong distorted guitar line supporting Cale's piano, and it manages to boogie - when there's actually no base for a boogie, it still boogies, and Lou churns out the riff like a demon! Ditto for 'Starlight', 'Forever Changed', and a couple of others. However, most of the other tunes are usually softer - more reminiscent of Lou's Berlin ballads, in fact: from the jolly gentle piano stylings of the opener, 'Smalltown', and down to the gentle, sympathetic 'Hello It's Me' that closes the album and represents Lou's artistic goodbye to Andy, all these songs aren't supposed to rock - they're rather atmospheric. I really don't think it would be useful to go over the songs one by one, since they don't differ much in style, and their primary difference is in lyrics, not anything else. There's only one track that openly stinks - the lengthy monolog 'A Dream' (it's probably about Andy's death), where Lou doesn't even try to sing - he just mumbles the text over, like in 'The Gift' from White Light; but 'The Gift', at least, was a thrilling story, and it was backed by some wonderful Stones-ish guitar, whereas 'A Dream' is quite hallucinogenous, and it isn't supported by any melody at all, just some moody synth playing from Cale. Perversely, it's the longest track on the album (six and a half minutes), and I faithfully ditched the album a whole point for that. Otherwise, the atmosphere is really inviting. You can really feel that Lou knew Warhol fine, and liked him quite fine, too. True,there's maybe, like, a total of two or three strong melodies on the whole record, and I really often fall asleep near the middle of the record, but who gives a damn when it's such an honest, moving tribute? And then, there's the lyrics, too: be sure to check out the sheet for 'Trouble With Classicists' if you've ever been interested in the nature of art.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Perhaps the calmest record ever written about death?Best song: MAGIC AND LOSS
Track listing: 1) Dorita - The Spirit; 2) What's Good - The Thesis; 3) Power And Glory - The Situation; 4) Magician - Internally; 5) Sword Of Damocles - Externally; 6) Goodby Mass - In A Chapel Bodily Termination; 7) Cremation - Ashes To Ashes; 8) Dreamin' - Escape; 9) No Chance - Regret; 10) Warrior King - Revenge; 11) Harry's Circumcision - Reverie Gone Astray; 12) Gassed And Stoked - Loss; 13) Power And Glory Part II - Magic / Transformation; 14) Magic And Loss - The Summation.
Berlin Vol. 2 is the best way to gie a quick hint at the style of this record, but it's actually different and better. It's certainly not an album you'd want to listen to on a casual basis; it's the kind of record that is worth sitting through once or twice with the utmost attention and dedication, then remembering it with respect and maybe even awe for the rest of your life. And I do not envy those for whom Magic And Loss is going to become like the closest friend, for Mr Reed wrote this material exclusively under the impressions of the death of two of his own closest friends from cancer, both within the course of one year - 'between two Aprils I lost two friends, between two Aprils magic and loss...'It is only too bad that Magic And Loss came out so late in Reed's life; it was, quite naturally, met with a warm critical reception (anything that gives 'em critics enough food for writing a review will meet one, and you could write volumes about this record!), but the public eye hardly even noticed it, which is all the more pitiful considering it just might be the most profound, mature, and intelligent album to ever come out of Lou's hands. The only reason it doesn't get a 9 or 10 on my scale is its entire disregard for actual musical structures and melodies; whenever an actually memorable tune arises out of the 'muck', I get a feeling it could only have happened by accident. And Lou also makes good use of CD format, as the album runs for almost an hour, by which time the main ideas and atmospheres have managed to repeat themselves at least thrice each, which makes listening even more tedious. But then again, I do realize that with an overall theme like that, the scene surely wasn't set for any curious musical experimentation or gorgeous melodies. It is, after all, supposed to be an atmospheric listen, and it is - the production of the album (credits shared by Lou with guitarist Mike Rathke) is dang near flawless, with next to no keyboards at all (just like on Blue Mask!), and clear, sharp, piercing guitar tones throughout; whether it be pure acoustic, or raging distorted electric, or toned down echoey ominous twanging, all the sounds seem to be coming directly from the heart. And yes, it is a much better record than the overhyped Berlin - unlike the former, it actually has its roots in reality and sincere pain, possessing none of the theatricality of Berlin. Of course, some might complain that Bob Ezrin gave Berlin that 'intriguing' edge, where Magic And Loss is perfectly straightforward, but buddy, you make your choice - I know I already made mine. The lyrics on the album might just be some of the best ever penned by Lou. It's not just a ravaging cry of injustice and suffering (although there's plenty of 'whining' and compassion all over the place); rather, it is the wise and stoic reaction of a middle-age person who has learned to accept the positive and negative sides of life as something inevitable. The crucial phrase is spoken right at the end, in the creepy, doom-laden title track: 'There's a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even it out'. That song, with its unnerving, inescapable rhythm, wild threatening metallic guitar in the left channel, and almost Gothic Casio guitar chords in the right channel, is the perfect album closer - it has just a little bit more majesty and solemnity to it than all the other tracks, and so gives the impression of 'best saved for last'. And here's a verse for you: "When you pass through humble when you pass through sickly/When you pass through I'm better than you all/When you pass through anger and self deprecation and have the strength to acknowledge it all/When the past makes you laugh and you can savor the magic that let you survive your own war/You find that that fire is passion and there's a door up ahead not a wall...'. 'Fire' is life, of course, and you all know what the door leads to. I don't know how Lou could have taken such a tricky, much-discussed subject as life and death and ventured through it avoiding all the usual cliches, but somehow he managed to do it. This album alone is guaranteed to earn him a place in the Top 10 rock poets of all time. A common critique is that there are too few rockin' tracks on this album - true, an album titled Magic And Loss might not be the best place to unfurl your rock and roll standard, but remember, fifty eight minutes of grumblin' and philosophizin' does wear out your nerves. That said, a couple of the tracks do kick ass: 'Warrior King', for instance, is a perfectly reasonable punkish rocker with uplifting guitar solos and great percussion. And 'Gassed And Stoked', co-written with Mike Rathke, has a gritty, bare-teeth, double-tracked guitar riff that glows with much the same passion as in the old times as Lou bitterly complains about the changes of fate - 'this is no longer a working number baby, please redial your call'. Other highlights... well, it's a bit wrong to talk in highlight/lowlight terminology here, since the album is such a tight complex in itself, but still, I'll have to mention at least the opening "pop-rocker" - 'What's Good', almost something that could have been inherited from Coney Island Baby, opening such a supposedly grim and desperate record with almost a shock. I'll also have to mention 'Sword Of Damocles' with a beautiful and exclusive synthesized atmospheric background that may seem a wee bit cheesy and 'adult contemporary' in another context, but works admirably on here. As for utter desperation, it sets in only on one track - 'Goodby Mass', highlighted by that robotic percussion rhythm and medieval-sounding guitar chords, but that sole track might be more penetrating than anything on Berlin. 'Power And Glory' is definitely a highlight too, although I by far prefer the rocking second part - the first part is spoiled by rather stupid, out-of-tune backing vocals from Jimmy Scott which I can't appreciate at all. So don't you try to live your life without this album, mister! Get this subtle and multi-level record, one of the best of 1992 (which was a great year for 'oldies acts' altogether - Peter Gabriel's Us, Clapton's Unplugged, Neil Young's Harvest Moon... all excellent 'comeback' albums in an epoch of relative rock rejuvenation and prosperity, too bad it didn't last too long...). Aw heck, maybe I ought to give it a 9, after all, if only for the lyrics. Well, it's only numbers, after all. Mark Prindle himself gave it a ten, and the Prindleman ain't one to give out tens like carrots, no sir, he isn't!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Lou's 'Unplugged'; nice, but a bit overrated... by none other than Lou himself.Best song: they're kinda... all similar on here... okay, for now let it be CONEY ISLAND BABY
Track listing: 1) I'll Be Your Mirror; 2) Perfect Day; 3) The Kids; 4) Vicious; 5) Busload Of Faith; 6) Kicks; 7) Talking Book; 8) Into The Divine; 9) Coney Island Baby; 10) New Sensations; 11) Why Do You Talk; 12) Riptide; 13) Original Wrapper; 14) Sex With Your Parents; 15) Dirty Blud.
Lou's latest for the XXth century is a lengthy live album, recorded at the Meltdown Festival in London in 1997. Apparently, the title of the album isn't just a reminiscence of 'Perfect Day' (which, by the way, is also in the setlist); it also reflects Lou's own feelings towards the concert. I've read some interviews with him where he really admits the night having been a 'perfect' one, a night where everything worked ideally and gelled together - the instruments, the audience, the band, the songs, the mood, etc., etc. And if you bother to read the liner notes, you'll witness a moving story of how Lou plugged his acoustic guitar directly into a special kind of amplifier one day and how it worked fine and how somebody managed to eliminate all the feedback and how he came out with that totally unique and fresh half-acoustic sound that really enthralled him. Now me, I don't think I manage to hear any significant differences between the sound on this record and your standard acoustic guitar run through your standard amp, but then I'm no musician, and I'm certainly not going to say that this is all bullshit; if it had that much importance for Lou, it's okay. Maybe I just have to start really training my ears some day. [Or maybe it's all just a big put-on; considering Lou's enigmatic nature, this isn't that impossible a suggestion].Unfortunately, I don't think it has that much importance for lovers of Lou Reed music - some, but not lots. Maybe the concert itself was all right, but I don't feel the atmosphere managed to transfer itself on the disc real well. Lou begins the concert with a few oldies: just one VU tune ('I'll Be Your Mirror'), some early Seventies' material ('Perfect Day', 'Kids', 'Vicious'), then goes into more 'modern' numbers that I haven't yet had the chance to appreciate on the original studio releases. As far as I understand, most of this stuff is from the late Eighties and the Nineties, especially Lou's latest, Set The Twilight Reeling. And while the renditions of these songs aren't particularly bad or anything, they somehow wear thin on you rather quickly. Perhaps it's mostly because Lou was so enamorous of his 'newly-found' guitar tone that he never bothered to diversify the arrangements even one simple bit. So it's all formula: Lou's pleasantly, but erratically strummed guitar with lots of syncopation but not a single outstanding melody, uninspired backing from the band, and his Dylan-style singing which he makes even more gruff and grating than on the studio releases. Apparently, Lou tried to emulate the whole Dylan's workshop, including the approach to live performances (I mean the principle 'the worse you sing it, the more artistic it gets'). However, that which mostly works with Dylan does not always work with Lou. As such, I can hardly stand 'I'll Be Your Mirror': I'll always be associating the tune with Nico, whatever be, and Lou simply can't do the song justice on here. Where's the cold graceful charm? This song was supposed to sound majestic, not pathetic. The stripped-down arrangement of 'Vicious' loses more than half of its raunchy, upbeat, slinky charm either, and whoever wants to hear 'Kids' without the children crying? Not me. I will, however, admit, that the two tunes taken off Coney Island Baby, namely, the title track and 'Kicks', work very well, and manage to thrill me for about just as much as the originals. Of course, it's due to the fact that the originals were also stripped down: Coney Island was so quiet and mellow that it translates onto a 'half-plugged' concert with no losses at all. Most of the other tunes are fifty-fifty; the general principle, I'd say, is that when Lou tries to 'rock out' with the band, he usually loses it, but when he goes for something weepy and soulful, like 'Talking Book' or the magnificent, tear-inducing rendition of 'Why Do You Talk', he hits the mark with both hands and feet and everything else. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to release an entire live album of ballads; then again, I'd probably just get bored with it. As it is, the ballads simply stand out proud and loud against the inept rockers like 'Original Wrapper' or 'Sex With Your Parents'; actually, the last four tracks off the album are all pretty much dismissable. I still don't understand why Lou went ahead and toyed with rap on 'Original Wrapper'. All for the sake of that stupid pun? Whatever. 'Busload Of Faith' just rules, though. Oh well, at least Lou's voice is in perfect form, a boon which, unfortunately, was not granted to Dylan. Ever compared Dylan's singing on his mid-Sixties albums with the way he whines on his Nineties records? Some say it's the result of too much smoking, but do you really think Lou Reed smoked any less than Bob? And Lou's voice is just as strong and fresh today as it was on Velvet Underground & Nico; a bit more deep, perhaps, but that's about the only change. Oh yeah, he really grates on you in a couple of places (that 'I wanna fly-y-y-y-y fly-y-y-y AWAAAAAAY' at the end of 'Dirty BLVD' really turns my liver inside out), but you can get used to it, and that's only a couple of places, after all. So you can simply put on this record, relax in your armchair, and unabashedly wax nostalgic. If you're a Lou fanatic, who knows? this album might yet take you places unseen. Me, I prefer to go straight to the source, but that does not mean Perfect Night is necessarily a bad album. It's just overrated. By the artist himself. The critics hated it, of course. But why should we?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A true hero never gives up, isn't it? You go and tell me if it's really worse than Transformer.Best song: BIG SKY
Track listing: 1) Paranoia Key Of E; 2) Mystic Child; 3) Mad; 4) Ecstasy; 5) Modern Dance; 6) Tatters; 7) Future Farmers Of America; 8) Turning Time Around; 9) White Prism; 10) Rock Minuet; 11) Baton Rouge; 12) Like A Possum; 13) Rouge; 14) Big Sky.
Okay, all right, so I do realize that through strict objectivity and all, this is more like an 8 and all. But dammit, just the fact that Lou has entered his fourth decade of musical life and still releases records that kick ass more than just about anything released by oldies' acts at the time, is worth of an extra point - might I be allowed just this little bit of cheatin'? Besides, I've just gotten off the fourth listen to this album, and if you can give it anything less than a nine after experiencing the final track, you got real steel instead of your nerve endings, friend. But hey, everything in due order!This is, see, a Lou Reed album. Normally, this information is not all that sufficient, but yeah, this IS the stereotypical Lou Reed album. It sounds absolutely timeless - the production values here haven't changed a tiny weeny bit since the era of Transformer, with real drums, real jangly and real distorted guitars, a bit of brass, a bit of violin (at least the credits say that Laurie Anderson plays some violin on here, but so far I haven't noticed on which tracks exactly), and next to no keyboards - Lou seems to really hate them nowadays, and I kinda understand him. Remember how keyboards ruined Growing Up In Public? And the songs are typical Lou Reed, the same street poetry set to garage riffs and primitive two-chord strums that he actually began with. So the only major surprise, in fact, is that Lou is still doing all the same shit and he still pulls it off in such a perfect manner. It's energetic, with rocking power steaming out of all the holes - you can bang your head to it if you wish, but if I were you, I'd stop and listen to the lyrics, too, because they're just as good, honest, a little sly and sarcastic and cliche-avoiding as ever. Madness, depression, anger, frustration, and just a little bit of love and optimism in spots where you need 'em the most. Dark moods, scary moods, crazy moods, gentle moods, he still got it, and he still got something new to say on every point - granted, it's not revolutionary or anything, it just continues the vein begun a long time ago, but... in a certain way, you could say that it's Lou's most open-minded and honest album ever. It's not grounded in any particular trend, like Transformer was in glam, or tied to any particular events, like Magic And Loss, or restricted by some particular side of Lou's personality, like Coney Island Baby. It can't be pigeonholed, it can't be described in one sentence. The melodies, as usual, aren't instantaneously memorable, but the more you listen to them, the more they invite you to do it some more. 'Paranoia Key Of E' is an excellent way to kick off the record, with a couple guitars playing syncopated riffs and a small brass section beefing the sound up, and great lyrics - 'Now, you know mania's in the key of B/psychosis in the key of C/Let's hope that we're not meant to be in paranoia key of E'. Then 'Mystic Child' continues this trend with an even simpler, but wilder melody... The wildest song on here, though, is certainly 'Future Farmers Of America', fast, frenzied, and milking Lou's distorted feedbackish personality for all its worth. 'Future farmers of America, I could crush him with my fist...', kinda scary. The quieter moments on the album are also worthy - like 'Rock Minuet', for instance, another of those little dirty stories of New York street life, life as dirty and grim as the moody inescapable guitar riff it's based upon. And I might be mistaken, but the song is actually in minuet tempo, isn't it? And even when Lou goes a little bit genteel and nostalgic and starts dreaming about 'Baton Rouge', his reminiscenses very soon carry him to the moment when 'the police asked for our ID... so helpless, so helpless...'. That's Lou Reed for you. The biggest point of controversy, of course, is 'Like A Possum' - track number 12, which seems to come out of nowhere, and while it is not unprecedented, still hardly fits in the general scheme of things. No less than an eighteen-minute "jam" which actually consists of two grungey guitars splashing and splurging feedback over each other, it's a hearty nod back to Metal Machine Music and maybe even to 'Sister Ray', especially if you consider the dirty rambling disconnected lyrics and all. I never liked 'Sister Ray' all that much, have always dreaded MMM and naturally can't hold too much respect for this thingey. BUT - the album runs for about 77 minutes, and nothing prevents you from throwing out this monster and enjoying a perfectly normal 60-minute Lou Reed album if you wish (in fact, I far prefer the idea of a normal 60-minute Reed album to the idea of a superlong normal 77-minute Reed album). That's on one side' and on the other side, I do admire the gall it took to dilute such a perfectly 'commercial' (well, in the Lou Reed sense of the word, of course) album with such a wild, unpredictable note. Hey, it's as if the Stones threw on a ten-minute long weird sonic collage a la Satanic on their latest offering! Weird and brave. But to hell with it - after 'Like A Possum' and a brief atmospheric instrumental, we have perhaps the culmination of all things Reed-esque - the magnificent, heavenly rocker (yes, these two words really do go together) 'Big Sky'. Words can't express my feelings: I've yet to hear a distortion-drenched, feedback-engulfed rocker that would be as gorgeous as this one. One guitar builds up the rhythmic foundation, another one takes the lead, soaring right up to the sky and expressing in three or four different chords maybe thrice the amount of emotions that Yngwie Malmsteem could express in three million. Lyrics and vocal melody are awesome as well (too bad Lou can't always stay on key, but who gives a frig?), and taken altogether, it's like the ultimate rock nirvana for the year 2000. Now that I think of it, Lou has written very few songs that could pass along as optimistic, life-asserting, near-religious anthems - maybe stuff like 'Heavenly Arms' could qualify, but it's way too personal and intimate: 'Big Sky' is like a jet of hope and stimulation for all of us. 'Big sky, big sky holding up the sun/big sky, big sky holding up the moon/Big sky holding down the sea/But it can't hold us down anymore!' - if you find this cheesy, just wait till Uncle Lou blows you down with his delivery. I'm pretty close to naming this THE Lou Reed song of the century, and it ain't no mean feat considering the time when it was written. Everybody needs to own this stuff, and every aspiring guitarist who doesn't have the time to master the technique of Steve Howe could treat this style as salvation. What a great, great album from somebody who just refuses to be washed up no matter what.
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