Lou Reed 1944–
(Born Louis Firbank) American songwriter, singer, musician, and actor.
Reed is known as an unconventional, sometimes bizarre, song-writer and performer. He began his career writing summer-love/surf's-up songs for a major recording company in the early 1960s, then formed the Velvet Underground in order to play the kind of songs he really wanted to write. The music Reed wrote, along with John Cale, was unlike any other at the time. His lyrics were some of the first to mention such topics as drug use, death, and sexual perversion. He was attacked for the despairing decadence revealed in his early works, yet these songs are now often called brilliant. As a part of Andy Warhol's mixed-media show, "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable," in the late 1960s, the Velvet Underground concentrated on wild visual effects in their live performances. Although the group did not gain widespread recognition before disbanding in the early 1970s, their music and concerts generated a new style of rock and roll, influencing the new wave and glitter-rock movements represented by David Bowie, Roxy Music, and Talking Heads.
Reed's second solo album, Transformer, gained him a wide following in the United States and Europe. The lyrics are not substantially different from those of the Velvet Underground era, but the album's popularity among young people reflects the changing attitudes of society toward previously taboo subjects. Transformer deals mainly with homosexuality, but instead of the revelations that might be expected from a professed homosexual, critics found the imagery mostly timid and stereotyped. One song, however, appealed to fans and critics alike. "Walk on the Wild Side" became a national top-ten hit for Reed, and some critics consider it an example of his ability to write powerful rock and roll.
Berlin was received with conflicting reactions. Thematically it recounts the story of Reed's disastrous first marriage, and while certain reviewers have termed the album a failure, others consider it a brilliant concept album. A basically simple story, it includes all of Reed's major themes—emasculation, sadism, misogyny, drug abuse, and emotional deterioration. The depressing tone, most often cited as the album's biggest flaw, is relieved only occasionally by Reed's sardonic humor. Reed followed this album with several unremarkable works, including Metal Machine Music, two records with exactly 16.1 minutes on each side, consisting of the sound of a blank tape running and some scratching noises. Such works as these, and Reed's alienating behavior in public, drastically lowered his credibility with critics and all but his most loyal fans.
Reed redeemed himself somewhat with Street Hassle, which critics generally thought exhibited the mastery first displayed in his work with the Velvet Underground. On Street Hassle he attempts to explain why most of his work has failed to live up to the promise of the Velvet Underground albums. Reed's characteristic mix of horror and humanity amid stylistic oddities is present, but the personalized emotionalism of the lyrics distinguishes the album from his former releases. Growing Up in Public is also highly autobiographical. Here Reed explores some of the forces that shaped him, and also loosely outlines the events leading to his second marriage. Reviewers tend to agree that despite the strongly literary lyrics, the music is pedestrian and keeps Growing Up in Public from being Reed's finest work.
The poetic quality of Reed's lyrics and the life-is-tough message that he expounds in all his work probably accounts for his consistent appeal to young adults. Critics, however, continue to disagree on his status as a songwriter. Some are still waiting for him to match the quality of his work with the Velvet Underground, while others feel that he has done so repeatedly and recognize Reed as one of the most important personalities in contemporary rock and roll.
With the Velvet Underground the pussyfooting has stopped. They do songs like "Venus in Furs" …, "Heroin," "The Black Angel's Death Song." That shows us what their world view is like. When the Stones did their first nihilist album (December's Children) you could have missed it without the album cover's help. You might have thought it merely beautiful. But the world system of the Velvets—rooted in sex, violence, disorder, perversion and stuff like that—is far too obvious. These guys are so serious that they have a coherent position. (p. 23)
Sandy Pearlman, "Saucer Lands in Virginia," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1967 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), October, 1967, pp. 20-4.∗
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The Velvet Underground have made just three albums…. But that trio of albums constitutes a body of work which is easily as impressive as any in rock.
If you doubt that statement, then it's unlikely that you've listened hard to the albums, because they yield up their treasure only to a listener who is prepared to treat them with respect and intelligence….
It was immediately obvious that they were very different from the hundreds of other groups springing up during the American Rock Renaissance.
Their music was hard, ugly, and based in a kind of sadomasochistic world which few dared enter. The first album [was] called "The Velvet Underground And Nico,"… and a scary document it is….
"Femme Fatale" takes a standard pop-song form and turns it into something tantalising and frightening, while "All Tomorrow's Parties" is a grim view of the life of a Lower East Side good-time girl.
"Parties" and another track, "Venus In Furs," share the group's best trademark: a kind of heavy, almost martial beat, very hypnotic and quite unrelated to any other music you can think of….
By the time their second album, "White Light/White Heat" …, came round … they had got further into some of the McLuhanistic tricks hinted at in the first album….
The songs [on "The Velvet Underground"] were, in the main, quieter and more restrained, but the...
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Lou Reed has always steadfastly maintained that the Velvet Underground were just another Long Island rock 'n' roll band, but in the past, he really couldn't be blamed much if people didn't care to take him seriously. With a reputation based around such non-American Bandstand masterpieces as "Heroin" and "Sister Ray," not to mention a large avant-garde following which tended to downplay the Velvets' more Top-40 roots, the group certainly didn't come off as your usual rock'em-sock'em Action House combination.
Well, it now turns out that Reed was right all along, and the most surprising thing about the change in the group is that there has been no real change at all. Loaded is merely a refinement of the Velvet Underground's music as it has grown through the course of their past three albums, and if by this time around they seem like a tight version of your local neighborhood rockers, you only have to go back to their first release and listen to things like "I'm Waiting For The Man" and the "Hitch-Hike"-influenced "There She Goes Again" for any answers.
And yet, though the Velvet Underground on Loaded are more loose and straightforward than we've yet seen them, there is an undercurrent to the album that makes it more than any mere collection of good-time cuts. Lou Reed's music has always concerned itself with the problem of salvation, whether it be through drugs and decadence (The Velvet Underground and...
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As far as I'm concerned, ["Lou Reed" is] the album we need most of all right now—the one which takes us above and beyond all the superstar crap and back into music. Or forward into music, because I don't want to say that this is a "back to the roots" album. It's just that listening to it gives me the kind of charge I haven't had in God knows how long.
Velvet freaks (and there are more than you think) will recognise in [the lyrics of "Wild Child"] the characteristic quality of Lou's best writing: what Geoffrey Cannon has pinned down as Reed's journalistic approach…. [His] reportage [is] as evocative as any newsreel.
Thus, for example, he approaches Lorraine, the Wild Child, through other people, and what he talks to them about. Directly, he says almost nothing about Lorraine herself—but by the time the song's over, she's become the most intriguing lady since Nico….
My personal favourite track is "Berlin." Lou's never been there, but uses his knowledge of Nico as a filter for his feelings about the city. The verses have a candlelit night-clubby atmosphere,… while the chorus rocks a little harder and is totally memorable….
The ballads are, in fact, every bit as remarkable as the rockers. "Lisa Says" is as beautifully constructed as "Berlin" (and even more enigmatic)….
The piece-de-resistance, the big production of the album, is "Ocean," which is the...
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Hail hail rock and roll! And hail Lou Reed for getting right back to the essence of what it's all about….
This almost perfect album [Lou Reed] has ten cuts—all of them containing some of the grittiest rock sounds being laid down today. It is skeletal rock—sexy, pimply, crude and sophisticated, all at the same time….
Just as arresting as Reed's voice are his lyrics, which combine a New York street punk sensibility and rock song cliches with a powerful poetic gift. On "Lisa Says," Reed sings, "Lisa says hey baby if you stick your tongue in my ear / Then the scene around here will become very clear." That says as much about raw sex as any two lines I can think of in rock literature. On "Wild Child," my favorite cut on the album, [the lyrics are an example] of Reed's brilliantly offhand incisiveness….
Reed's tunes, which are based on the cliche phrases of Fifties teen laments, are inconsequential but endearing as sung in his lost adolescent's cracked voice. His artistic self-awareness, however, is so secure that he invariably turns less into more. For he not only awakens nostalgia for Fifties rock, he shows that it is still a vital resource for today's musicians…. The overall impression is that of a knowing primitivism, as serious as it is playful, and never less than refreshing. Listening to Reed is not only a pleasure, it is a lesson in how to make first-rate rock and roll music. By...
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[Reed] was the first rock composer to open the Pandora's Box of unsavoriness. His hard-driving rock anthems, "Run, Run, Run," "White Heat/White Light" and "I'm Waiting for the Man," are still revived by hard rock bands in the process of paying their dues.
Reed is also still paying his dues. The public has never discovered him and, unfortunately, "Transformer" will not help his cause. Here, the Phantom seems to have been given a Mickey Finn and the result is a flaccid piece of work.
The composer offers up an obligatory cut about polymorphous sexuality, "Walk on the Wild Side," which seems to be a nostalgia item for those few who wish to return to the Warhol heyday. His "Vicious" is not as vicious as it pretends to be. Ballads like "Perfect Day" alternate with primitive rockers ("Hangin' Round") and show tunes ("I'm So Free") and novelty items ("Goodnight Ladies"). There is no over all point of view, no projection of the current Reed persona, and one's attention drifts. (pp. 34-5)
Henry Edwards, "Freak Rock Takes Over?" in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 17, 1972, pp. 34-5.∗
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Lou Reed is probably a genius. During his days … with the Velvet Underground, he was responsible for some of the most amazing stuff ever to be etched in vinyl; all those great, grinding, abrasive songs about ambivalence, bonecrushers, Asthmador, toxic psychosis and getting dicked,… and those wonderful cottonmouth lullabies…. His first solo album, Lou Reed, was a bit of a disappointment in light of his work with the Velvets….
[Homosexuality] was always an inherent aspect of the Velvet Underground's ominous and smutsome music, but it was always a pushy, amoral and aggressive kind of sexuality. God knows rock & roll could use, along with a few other things, some good faggot energy, but, with some notable exceptions, the sexuality that Reed proffers on Transformer is timid and flaccid.
"Make Up," a tune about putting on make-up and coming "out of the closets / out on the street," is as corny and innocuous as "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. There's no energy, no assertion. It isn't decadent, it isn't perverse, it isn't rock & roll, it's just a stereotypical image of the faggot-as-sissy traipsing around and lisping about effeminacy.
"Goodnight Ladies" is another cliche about the lonely Saturday nights, the perfumed decadence and the wistful sipping of mixed drinks at closing time.
"New York Telephone Conversation" is a cutesy poke at New York...
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Robot A. Hull
[Transformer] is further proof even that Lou Reed has turned into something sicker than a homicidal-rapist-mass murdererporno editor. Far gone is that prevailing commercial bubblegum flair so evident on the first album (e.g.—"I Love You," "Lisa Says," "Love Makes You Feel," etc.). Instead, it's more like what the third Velvet Underground album would have sounded like if David Bowie had been in charge of production back then. There's a couple of cute ditties on here that perhaps belong on [The Mothers of Invention's] We're Only In It For The Money …, but other than that this album proclaims itself as most masterpieces proclaim themselves: IT GROWS ON YA!!
Primarily this is because of the lyrics. There are so many good lines thrown at ya at once that, in fact, you could even make a scrapbook. Prime examples are for instance like on "Vicious," a chunky rocker….
Then there's "Wagon Wheel" which is even more frantic than "Vicious" except that it features a prayer by Lou wherein he confesses all of his sins. Yeah, it's got good lines…. (p. 65)
But none of em, absolutely none of em, can top "Walk on the Wild Side" which is most certainly the best thing Lou Reed has come out with since "Rock & Roll." The song is one of those impromptu "Wild Child" ramble-epics which feature exclusively Lou's magnificent sense of sneeze-phrasing…. But it's the words that curdle your oily...
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["Transformer"] is a major disappointment after [Reed's] brilliant first effort. Who would have thought that the man who wrote Sister Ray could turn out—and so soon—to be just another pretty face?
Well, of course, that's not really fair. Reed, you'll recall, was the creative force behind the Velvet Underground, that strange and still misunderstood aggregation that sang about heroin and Jesus before either was pop-fashionable. In 1966, in fact, Lou and the Velvets were about as avant-garde as could be—which consequently obscured the fact that they were a classic hardrock band cut from the same cloth as the original Byrds or the early Rolling Stones … and that Lou was an exquisitely acute songwriter….
That's all still true, but you'd be hard put to prove it with anything from Reed's new "Transformer." There are a few cuts that suggest the Reed of old, and predictably they're the rockers—the cosmic punk-stupidity of Vicious and Hangin' Round, for instance—but even there the effort is sabotaged by limp production values…. I could probably abide this (after all, a similar problem flawed the last album) if so many of the songs weren't obvious throwaways. Good Night Ladies, for example, is a music-hall monologue that is perhaps wryly amusing the first time through, but to say that it lacks staying power is something of an understatement.
I won't dwell on...
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Lou had always been a master narrator, a short story writer at heart, who always lacked a producer who could transform his literary sensibilities into vinyl dramas. In fact, Lou's entire output with the Velvet Underground can be seen as a four-record passion play dealing with depravity, perversion and, ultimately, redemption….
[Berlin is] an incredibly powerful story full of depravity, emasculation, violence, suicide, detachment and anomie…. It's not an overstatement to say that Berlin will be the Sgt. Pepper of the Seventies.
Larry Sloman, "Lou Reed's New Deco-Disk: Sledge-hammer Blow to Glitterbugs," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 144, September 27, 1973, p. 18.
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[Though Reed's two solo albums] each have had notable tracks, it's doubtful if many discerning souls, if any, would prefer them to the Velvets' records—a comparison that I daresay he's become heartily bored with. Nevertheless, his malleability is even more exposed on "Berlin."… [Bob Ezrin's] production establishes a sense of nihilism that's underlined by Reed's old, squeezed husk of a voice—a tone of aridity that's well-suited to the downer nature of this album with a "story": two speed-freaks in exile, on the moral and physical decline. A very simple story, in fact; the girl is separated from her kids for not being a fit mother, and her lover then describes how she slashes her wrists.
Now only Lou could have come up with a concept like that, but in the past he would never have treated it as he has here. Instead of observing a detached, almost journalistic viewpoint, as was done in the story of Waldo and Marsha, he has indulged his emotions to the point of self-pity…. What some see as harrowing I see merely as maudlin and fake. In fact, it's infinitely more camp and grotesque than anything that Alice [Cooper] has ever done. Somehow, Lou Reed has gone soft; he's turned himself inside out. Boo hoo! If this album is a masterpiece of pathos, it still has to be allowed that Lou's insights into the "drug experience" are acute. "How Do You Think It Feels" is a very good song, with its personalised account of a speed-freak's reactions...
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[Berlin] is the most disgustingly brilliant record of the year. There has always been a literary instinct behind Lou's best writing—classics like "Sweet Jane" were four minute short stories with recognizable characters acting out their roles, manipulated for Lou's amusement in a way he certainly considers Warholian. In Berlin, his first feature length presentation, the silhouettes have been filled in till they're living, breathing monsters.
A concept album with no hit singles, but shy of the "rock opera" kiss of death, Lou refers to it as a film. So I guess it's his attempt … at Warhol Trash….
What it really reminds me of, though, is the bastard progeny of a drunken flaccid tumble between Tennessee Williams and Hubert (Last Exit From Brooklyn) Selby, Jr. It brings all of Lou's perennial themes—emasculation, sadistic misogyny, drug erosion, twisted emotionalism of numb detachment from "normal" emotions—to pinnacle.
It is also very funny—there's at least one laugh in every song—but as in Transformer you have to doubt if the humor's intentional. Transformer was a masterpiece at least partially by the way it proved that even perverts can be total saps—whining about being hit with flowers, etc.—and this album has almost as many risible non sequiturs as that did…. (p. 58)
It may be the grandest dreariness you ever...
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Strikingly and unexpectedly, Lou Reed's "Berlin" … is one of the strongest, most original rock records in years….
His last two albums had their virtues, but left him open to the charge of being burned out. Now, with "Berlin," he has proven conclusively that he must be counted as one of the most important figures in contemporary rock….
Reed is really a poetic artist who creates unified statements through the medium of the rock record. The backings are clothed in rock dress, but the form is more operatic and cinematic than strictly musical in the traditional pop sense, and the sentiments are entirely personal.
Where others prance and play at evoking an aura of drugs and sexual aberrance, Reed is coldly real. "Berlin" is a typically dreamlike saga of a sado-masochistic love affair in contemporary Berlin. But the contemporaneity is enriched by a subtle acknowledgment of [Bertolt] Brecht and [Kurt] Weill, and the potential sensationalism of the subject is calmly defused by a sort of hopeless matter-of-factness.
Reed doesn't revel in his characters' promiscuity and indifference and quick descent into violence and tragedy. He just tells his story, and lets the music, through a steady accumulation of strings and other "classical" effects, lift it up to the level of a moral allegory. There is a touch of soap-opera sentimentality on the second side, but it is hardly enough to spoil the...
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Lou Reed's Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide. There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them. Reed's only excuse for this kind of performance … can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye, Lou.
Stephen Davis, "'Berlin'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 150, December 20, 1973, p. 84.
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It seemed we had to wait until "Berlin" for a Reed album with full musical and lyrical conviction. Now, this live album, ["Rock 'n' Roll Animal,"] complements it. Together they make a good set.
One track, "Lady Day," is indeed from "Berlin" but the other four date back to the Velvet Underground: "Sweet Jane," "Heroin," "White Light White Heat" and "Rock 'n' Roll." Thus in one way we get the best of both worlds, old numbers in fresh, retrospective style….
It makes sense to choose these numbers from the live act because to take current songs would probably be mere duplication. However, on side two "Lady Day" overwhelms its neighbouring tracks, its potent structure coming over more powerfully than on "Berlin." A certain venom—not evident on the studio cut—in Reed's voice underlines the desolate cityscape of the lyrics….
The new sound of this dark classic ["Heroin"] is at once dreamy and phantasmagoric. One begins to see the relevance of the album title and how Reed, like a modern day [Edgar Allan] Poe, blends chilling description with the signal force of his imagination. One could call it dramatic sense or a compensating factor in his mentality. For the listener, Reed's strange alchemy of personality shackles him ever to a sense of reality plunged in the depths of nightmare and delusion. Once the diapason has struck in songs of this virulence and intensity, especially in the heat of live...
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[If Andy] Warhol's paintings and films were merely reflecting the commercial day to day existence of Twentieth Century America then the Velvets' achievements were more specific still. They were holding up an auditory mirror of middle-Sixties New York with its suicides and addictions, its downer trips, loneliness and utter joylessness.
And like any well-conceived horror film, the Velvet Underground had a sick attraction all their own—that gory magnetism that draws passers-by to the sites of road accidents.
Of course, as part of his Disaster series of paintings, Warhol had exhibited grim blow-ups of horrific car crash photos. In their own way, the Velvets did the same thing, exploiting the sordid side of human nature….
[Following] the release of "The Velvet Underground And Nico," the great record buying public became fascinated by songs like "Waiting For The Man" and "Heroin."
The issue that caught the attention was the ambiguity of the lyrics…. [Was] "Heroin" a warning to stay away from the deadly stuff, or was it some kind of junkies' torch song?…
"Lady Godiva's Operation," [a] horrific tale (it's about a hysterectomy), broke new ground for the liberation of the rock lyric. Indeed, it's only the clinical associations of the subject that prevent the piece from being straight pornography….
After the release of "White Light," the Velvets...
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Lou Reed didnt seem hung up. Not on [1969 Live]. The cross dont seem his true shape. The boy on this record was riding a wave—seeming in a state of suspended joy. Longing checked in some roadhouse like Steve McQueen in Baby the Rain Must Fall. Not Mick Jagger no muscular sailor just ONE caught in a warp in some lost town and rising. The Velvets winding up the Sixties laying one long clean rhythmic fart across the West called Live in Texas; with Lou Reed winking right in the eye of that fart. I mean these boys may been outa tune but they were solid IN TIME….
And who beyond the performer is the most hungry for poetry in any form but the children the new masses and Lou Reed KNEW it—never played down back then—cause he knew that youth can eat the truth…. I see my friends they say man I gotta simmer down its too much pain but jesus let me rock back like peter pan I'd rather die than not take it out on the line one more time another risk is bliss.
That's why I love this record so much. It goes beyond risk and hovers over like an electric moth. Theres no question no apologising there is just a trust a bond with time and god their relentlessly relaxed method of getting it on and over the land of strain. Like [poet Arthur] Rimbaud we rebel baptism but you know man needs water he needs to get clean keep washing over like a Moslem. Well this drowning is eternal and you dont have to track it lambkin you...
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Much as Lou would probably prefer it, the Underground just won't go away. And frankly, if you feel (as I do) that Lou has been generally making an ass out of himself since their demise, and that "Animal" was just too slick a presentation of songs that walk a thin line between being moronic and sublimely terrifying, then you're going to dig the hell out of ["1969 Velvet Underground Live"]. I certainly do….
So what do we get? Most of the band's best numbers, some previously unrecorded gems featuring Lou at his most corny and charming (Over You) and some early thoughts on tunes later resurrected on the solo albums. The results are by and large incandescent….
The lesson of all this is that Lou Reed is (was?) one of the great rock singer/songwriters, and that in the Velvet Underground he found the perfect musical means to express his not inconsiderable ideas. This new set is a gas, one of the best live rock albums of this or any other year, and if it's not quite as good as "Loaded" (the band's penultimate studio statement, where their raunch was even more completely distilled) it's damn close, and that's saying something. If your only exposure to Lou has been his increasingly disappointing post-Velvet work, then "1969 Velvet Underground Live" will come as a remarkable surprise. If you're already a fan, I don't have to tell you. For both factions, as well as those who just like first-rate rock-and-roll, the...
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In a way I hope that ["Sally Can't Dance"] is the last album that Lou Reed ever makes. There's no longer any way of avoiding the fact that since the demise of the Velvet Underground, Reed's been balancing precariously on the edge of total artistic disintegration.
Discounting "Rock and Roll Animal" … Reed's produced four solo albums, including the one under consideration here.
On those four albums there are maybe half a dozen cuts—and that's an optimistic assessment—that could just possibly be compared to his work with the Velvets. And that's sad, because at his peak Reed was years ahead of almost everyone in terms of intelligence, vision and the exploration of themes which the rest of rock has still to catch up with. This album isn't quite the ultimate disaster I'd anticipated, but it's close enough for me to wish that Lou would take a long cool look around and move into the shadows. It's too late, I fear, for him to skin off all the Skull City death duets with which he's become inextricably involved. This album amounts to little more than obsessive self parody, and if Reed can't see that then he's past all danger and already way out beyond the recall point. The first side is totally dismissable. It sounds as if he's gone through his old notebooks taking a line here and there to compile a series of songs that echo facets of his style—ya know, that cold, detached, penetrating, reportage—and come up with songs...
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Nathaniel West once wrote about Hollywood, "Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous." In the case of Lou Reed's [Sally Can't Dance], that line might be amended to read, "Few things are more depressing than limp attempts by an aging rock 'n roller to titillate a mass audience." So far has Reed's musical/sensibility stock plummeted.
There was a time when, beneath the facades of kinkiness, paranoia and demimonde weariness, Reed's songs were compassionate, even tender. Short stories on messy people and situations. Reed's material at its zenith qualified as near poetic expressions of desperation….
[The] difference between the Reed style of, say, "Some Kinda Love," with its subtly stalking melody, exemplary phrasing and beautifully turned lines …, and any of his current output is rather like comparing the works of [the Marquis] DeSade with a peep show. Any likenesses between the two are purely incidental.
Whereas a Reed lyric was once bitter and empathetic, and almost uniformly incisive, the present Reed oeuvre is marked by sloganeering tendencies. Can it be that he has determined that his audience is comprised of callow, post-pubescents who will "get off" to his merely listing various instances of Jesus-I'm-bored deviance in different songs? With Sally Can't Dance, "decadence," always a hollow, albeit occasionally interesting state, has foundered to new levels of vacuity....
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After the frustrations and relative failure of Berlin, his magnum opus, you'd think that Reed would sing of something people and critics could identify with, like the surging cost of toilet paper. Instead, Sally Can't Dance continues Lou's fascination with death and decay in the civilized underground of his youth, primarily through what sound like Berlin outtakes. If Sally is a commercial success, Lou will have orchestrated the greatest irony of his irony-loving life. (p. 79)
Sally is not simply an anthology of outtakes, however, and not all the numbers with the feel of refurbished oldies recall Berlin. With its bestial menage a trois, "Animal Language," shorn of its funk, is reminiscent of "I Can't Stand It" from the first solo album. And "Billy" … belongs to another time entirely. Apparently, Lou never throws anything away….
For the first time in years Lou has made an album without the help of some obvious talents like Bowie, Ezrin or [guitarist Steve] Hunter. The result is so safe, tidy and danceable that this tarnished genius might find a place once more in the Top 40. The possibility that, say, "Baby Face," a tune which documents the sleazy meanness of a perverse affair's finish, might be engraved on the minds of this country's youth by millions of radios to sell Big Macs and Clearasil, almost boggles my mind. (p. 80)
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Why is this guy surviving, who has made a career out of terminal twitches ever since the Velvet Underground surfaced dead on arrival in 1966? Well, for one thing, the Velvets emerged from under one of the many entrepreneurial wings of Andy Warhol, who has managed to accomplish more in this culture while acting (in public at least) like a total autistic null-node than almost any other figure of the 60s. Lou learned a lot from Andy, mainly about becoming a successful public personality by selling your own private quirks to an audience greedy for more and more geeks. The prime lesson he learned was that to succeed as this kind of mass-consumed nonentity you must expertly erect walls upon walls to reinforce the walls that your own quirky vulnerability has already put there.
In other words, Lou Reed is a completely depraved pervert and pathetic death dwarf and everything else you want to think he is. On top of that he's a liar, a wasted talent, an artist continually in flux, and a huckster selling pounds of his own flesh. A panderer living off the dumbbell nihilism of a 70s generation that doesn't have the energy to commit suicide. Lou Reed is the guy that gave dignity and poetry and rock 'n' roll to smack, speed, homosexuality, sadomasochism, murder, misogyny, stumblebum passivity, and suicide, and then proceeded to belie all his achievements and return to the mire by turning the whole thing into a monumental bad joke with himself as the...
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Lou Reed reminds me of Jack Kerouac near the end, dozing in an arm-chair with a beer, a flask of bourbon and a script for Obetrols, mumbling the same old stories at anyone within range. "Hey, ya wanna hear me make up a complete Shakespearean sonnet right outta my head?"
Like Kerouac, Reed was mostly responsible for a movement that he didn't want much to do with. Kerouac in his Catholic guilt didn't want to be aligned with a whole generation of screwed-up young Americans. He claimed he wanted to write like Thomas Wolfe. Likewise Reed shied away from, and virtually spit on, the whole gay-flash-rock 'n' roll-decadence scene; "Hey, why don't they listen to the ballads?" You can tell the guy would have really liked to be a poet, but the Sixties beat him to it.
"Records: 'Lou Reed Live'," in Creem (© copyright 1975 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 1, June, 1975, p. 63.
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Perhaps the fact that Lou Reed's curious career continues is more important than what he does with it at this particular stage. Had he accomplished nothing else, his work with the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties would assure him a place in anyone's rock & roll pantheon; those remarkable songs still serve as an articulate aural nightmare of men and women caught in the beauty and terror of sexual, street and drug paranoia, unwilling or unable to move. The message is that urban life is tough stuff—it will kill you; Reed, the poet of destruction, knows it but never looks away and somehow finds holiness as well as perversity in both his sinners and his quest….
The man's accomplishments may be few of late, but he is still one of a handful of American artists capable of the spiritual home run. Should he put it all together again, watch out.
Paul Nelson, "Records: 'Lou Reed Live'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1975; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 188, June 5, 1975, p. 60.
(The entire section is 175 words.)
[Coney Island Baby] made me so morose and depressed when I got the advance copy that I stayed drunk for three days…. Now, when I was younger, the Velvet Underground meant to me what the Stones, Dylan, etc. meant to thousands of other midwestern teen mutants. I was declared exempt from the literary curriculum of my upper class suburban high school simply because I showed the English department a list of books I'd glanced through while obsessively blasting White Light/White Heat on the headphones of my parents' stereo. All my papers were manic droolings about the parallels between Lou Reed's lyrics and whatever academia we were supposed to be analyzing in preparation for our passage into the halls of higher learning. "Sweet Jane" I compared with Alexander Pope, "Some Kinda Love" lined right up with T. S. Eliot's "Hollow Men" … plus I had a rock band and we played all these songs, fueled pharmaceutically by our bassist who worked as a delivery boy for a drugstore and ripped off an entire gallon jar full of Xmas trees and brown & clears. In this way I cleverly avoided all intellectual and creative responsibilities at the cleavage of the decades (I did read all the Delmore Schwartz I could steal from local libraries, because of that oblique reference on the 1st Velvets LP). After all, a person with an electric guitar and access to obscurities like "I saw my head laughing, rolling on the ground" had no need of creative credentials…....
(The entire section is 815 words.)
To capture the correct mood—exactly what has been missing from most of his RCA records—for Coney Island Baby, the artist has forsaken his recent daze for the days of 1969 and Loaded to reclaim the warmth of some of the songs ("Pale Blue Eyes," particularly) he loved to sing. Such a move does not imply that Reed was then or is now a moony sentimental fool—1969, Loaded and Coney Island Baby are all extremely tough LPs. But it does infer that since he left the Underground (in more ways than one), too much of his work has been a cheap, sensationalized self parody of the more freakish side of his persona. Those who admire the contrived outrageousness of the simple, speed-crazed Monster may be more than a little nonplused by the ambiguity and extra dimension—call it ironic, friendly reality—its creator has added to almost every song on the new album. Coney Island Baby in no way whitewashes the warp and woof of the quintessential Reed, but a balance has been restored and one can understand the new "monster," once again take him seriously….
The songs themselves—as structured and melodic as any Reed has written—are timeless, terrific rock & roll….
[Much] of this record is about integrity, with the singer setting down coherent moral confrontations—"Hey, man, what's your style? / How do you get your kicks for living?"—from the outlaw code that...
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I've always had the feeling that there is considerably less to Lou Reed's work than meets the ear. Members of the "thinking" pop press—often down in the depths of the ninetieth floor, at least in regard to their own social consciences after one lavish publicity lunch too many—immediately took to Reed from his earliest days with the Velvet Underground, and they seemed to fall all over each other in proclaiming him some new kind of 33-rpm François Villon, alternating their tsk-tsks with a goggle-eared attention to his every new grunt. This must have been because his songs often dealt with drugs or homosexuality or the bitterly desperate street life of teen-age burnt-out cases. That the songs often had what seemed to be autobiographical tidbits strewn through them served only to add to the titillation, and consequently Reed has been the reigning in-house decadent for some time now.
Well, I'm here, fresh from the haunt of the coot and the tern, to tell you that ["Coney Island Baby"] strikes me as an extremely patchy effort, intermittently entertaining, and about as dissolute as a waffle bake over at Mary Hartman's. The songs, considerably more upbeat this time out, include two that are very good—Coney Island Baby, a song about the search for personal values, and the charmingly bad-ass Charley's Girl….
His admirers seem to find him a significant mixture of William Burroughs, Jean Genêt, and Bob...
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I love [Lou Reed]. Like his ex-brethren from the Underground, he's got guts. No compromises. Berlin was the most naked exorcism of manic/depression ever to be committed to vinyl. His technique is to alienate the listener so bad that the listener perceives himself as some sorta in-squad just to say he digs Lou Reed: this is hip. Lou Reed has last laugh; voila Metal Machine Music. Other praise: pushing free sexuality come-out. Problem is, he's come out so far he's fallen in. (p. 72)
Bruce Malamut, "Lou Reed Is Not Jimmy Reed," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1976 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), May, 1976, pp. 71-2.∗
(The entire section is 109 words.)
The notion may seem rather fanciful, but it strikes me that Lou Reed is becoming increasingly like an old lover whom you might occasionally meet by chance. Sometimes, the original infatuation is revived and the relationship consummated. On other occasions there is no romantic revival, and you might even question the original attraction.
Right now, faced with Reed's ["Rock And Roll Heart,"] I'm reminded of my admiration for his achievements, but I'm wondering whether that is quite enough to provoke more than a passing enthusiasm for this record. In other words, "Rock And Roll Heart," despite its manifest flaws, could persuade me to get involved in some heavy petting but I don't think I'd go, as they say, all the way.
The record will no doubt disappoint those admirers of Reed who were encouraged by the signs of artistic rehabilitation on his … "Coney Island Baby," and supply with fresh ammunition those critics who are convinced of his decline.
Of its predecessors, "Rock And Roll Heart" most closely resembles "Transformer." It is characterised by the same irritating blandness and features some songs as equally facile as those which afflicted the earlier record.
"I Believe In Love," which opens this album, is, for instance, perplexingly like the kind of inane mush Marc Bolan might have recorded had he come from New York (though it's not nearly so vapid as the two tracks that follow,...
(The entire section is 534 words.)
Lou Reed has been making a lot of noise about rock & roll lately, but his new album is less a collection of rock & roll songs than a series of meditations which comprise the philosophy of Lou Reed. This is not to say the music isn't rock & roll. But the spirit is not rock & roll. Rock & roll is aggressive; Rock and Roll Heart is reflective….
Rock and Roll Heart is a replay of every snarl he ever put onto wax. On its 12 songs he contemplates a variety of typical Lou Reed subjects—love, hate, good times, bad times, fame, hipness—in a manner that's deceptively perfunctory. He seems to have reduced his work to a series of skeletal phrases which he fleshes out with music that's lean and raw. The key phrases are all refrains…. He has scooped out their depth and given us nothing but surface. (p. 94)
Reed obviously expects us to accept these compositions as songs. You could certainly take the cynical view: at this point in his career, Lou has only to sing a line with "vicious" in it eight times and throw in a couple of other lines (as he does in "Vicious Circle") and his fans will fill in the rest. Of course, this kind of lyrical shorthand is a lot easier to pull off when you have a voice that sounds like it was created for words like "vicious," but then some people just have a gift.
Yet, as any TMer knows, meditation can lead to higher truths; surface effect can...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
I liked Lou's last album, Coney Island Baby, for its integrity, combativeness, and character, but Rock and Roll Heart flashes none of these qualities. Lou promised this would be a rock 'n' roll album, but I call it stuff 'n' nonsense. For the most part, these tracks are merely notations for songs, unfinished sketches of ideas that are pretty stale anyway. Unlike Coney Island Baby, this collection sounds almost completely insincere; how suddenly he forfeited that self-assured conviction. It's the record of an artist out of touch with his core, so he clowns around instead—anything to entertain, eh?…
"Banging On My Drum" sounds like a warmup for [the New York Dolls's] "Personality Crisis," and the words make [the Ramones's] "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" seem deep by comparison. "You Wear It So Well," drenched in the sarcastic ooze of Berlin, rings truest to Lou's conflicted persona, but he dodges developing any storyline or character. "Ladies Pay" is a decent dockside soap opera rocker that challenges the emotional depth of [Alice Cooper's] "Only Women Bleed."…
Somewhere in the "creative" stage, Lou abandoned this LP. Lyrically, there's no exploration of any topical stuff like, say, illicit love nests of the Yankee bat boys, or a gay look at the New York police riots, or Lou's highs from snorting the ashes of burned legal contracts.
Sure, this may be yet another...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
Lou Reed is touted in some quarters as a serious artist, but there is nothing on ["Rock and Roll Heart"] to support such a fantasy. He seems deliberately mediocre and dull. He is an anti-musician, much as his mentor and former employer Andy Warhol (from their Velvet Underground band association) was an anti-artist and anti-film director…. Reed's monotone vocals and non-songs are considered deceptively simple statements with deep underlying meanings.
The truth is that Reed and Warhol are, consciously or unconsciously, con men. Like all con men, they hold their victims in contempt and their pleasure comes in seeing just how gullible their audience can be….
Since he is an anti-musician, it is impossible to judge Reed on the basis of music. Sample: on three of the selections here, the titles of the tunes are the only lyrics, and they are repeated over and over to the accompaniment of a not more than competent band. It would be comforting to dismiss him as a rascal, but that cannot be done. Even as a con man he has no flair, and his contempt for his audience is ugly.
Joel Vance, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'Rock and Roll Heart'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1977 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 38, No. 2, February, 1977, p. 101.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
[If] you can hear [Lou Reed's best songs] at all, it's through bone conduction, like your own voice. Not even the Velvets' unique pulsating beat and highly danceable rhythms could make such intimacy into mass entertainment. The ordinary rock star stances of dominance and doper cool are easy enough to swallow, but Lou based his self-assertion on the hidden undersides of those attitudes: passivity, melancholia and the dubious ecstasies of self-destruction…. Nobody wants to identify with that kind of bad news….
Shock was never the only resource in the Reed repertoire: There's a great street voice, poetic complexities in simple lines, enchanting melodies and screaming energy, and terse guitar electronics which perfectly express the tension in real human fingers….
Lou's solo emergence under the wing of Dave Bowie relied more on personality than his music, evoking an explicit gay posture and animalistic bad taste…. [Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed is] a mixed trick-or-treat bag of melting Baby Ruths, jawbreakers with soft centers and a few fishhooks for laughs….
The soft, sensitive tunes are the most successful here. "Satellite of Love," that uncanny romance, is the album's only undeniable classic; its only hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," is a justifiable fave; and the three-hanky "Coney Island Baby"—"wanna play football for the coach"—is a touching, tuneful delight which...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
DAVID DALTON and LENNY KAYE
The Velvet Underground cauterized their time, searing the bloodstream of hedonism and frustration. Theirs was a demimonde, offering salvation in place of morality, ends justified by means. To be real, they vowed, pitting the absurd against the vulgar. The black angel would peal its death song, sufferance and understanding as final reward, while terror and certainty fused in scenes of rumbling destruction, buildings toppling, cities left smoldering in ruins.
They stood alone, regarded as a curiosity or a "bum trip," their darkling visions no match for the optimism engloving America. It was only later, when they'd at last broken under the pressure of hindsight, that their truth would become known: beauty in evil, evil in beauty, taking the strange twists of the human soul and glorifying them in a play of passions, "All Tomorrow's Parties." Even their name … seemed to hint at unknown depravities better whispered in private. The Velvet Underground, as early as 1966, was the first band of the seventies, twisting violence and catharsis into a haze of articulate noise, prophetic and provoking. (pp. 198-99)
[The] Velvets exposed a new wound of festering consciousness. Their style was set by drugs and urban dishevelment…. (p. 199)
[The] Velvets' first album, simply titled The Velvet Underground & Nico,… outlined their subculture with diffracted accuracy, turning each song on the next to...
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Like so much of Reed's recent work ["Street Hassle" is] an inconsistent, constantly frustrating outing with the brilliance of [the title cut]—an ambitious and largely successful work—french kissing in terminal intimacy rather lacklustre performances like "Shooting Star"—which deals, with no surfeit of musical or lyrical inspiration, with the transience of stardom….
The album's tour-de-force (which elsewhere will probably be slagged into a coma), is "Street Hassle," an extraordinary narrative about a love affair (whether hetero/homo/transexual is not yet clear), that traces its disintegration and, finally the death of one of the lovers. An OD, naturally. At least it shows that Dick Stewart just which one's the champ in evoking underworld romance. The musical setting is as incisive and as unusual as the language….
I'll suspend final judgment on this album until I've had a chance to listen to it more closely….
Allan Jones, "Lou Slips Away," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), March 4, 1978, p. 20.
(The entire section is 160 words.)
A funny thing happened to [John] Milton on the way to Paradise. He discovered the devils to be more fascinating than the angels, and that gave him hell. Lou Reed has also been prey to such problems. His new album, Street Hassle, is up to its neck in devils. But at last Reed has introduced them to his angels. "Gimme gimme gimme some good times/gimme gimme gimme some pain," the opening chant of [Street Hassle] … carries the same jolt. Like [poet Rainer Maria] Rilke, who felt that if his demons were exorcised by psychoanalysis his angels would also split, Reed has juggled the heroes and villains. He hasn't offed his demons, but he's in control of them now; he's severed the excesses and self-indulgences that made him look foolish in the past.
For me, Lou Reed becomes a hero with Street Hassle. Heroes are validated only by their acts, while villains reek of personality…. Reed has sacrificed his gangsterism to his aspirations. He's too film noir to ever be Randolph Scott, but I admire his trying. He's too East of Eden also, but it's getting very populous there. If the people accept him, the rebel will go respectable, he'll be a Zapata, a Fidel. Maybe Reed wants to be a superstar; maybe he's getting softer, less cynical. He's in no need of restraint any longer, or sympathy….
The devil unclothed, turns out to be just another babe in the bulrushes, finally, after nine solo LP's, fighting a heroic...
(The entire section is 280 words.)
Near the beginning of this brilliant new album [Street Hassle], Lou Reed sings: "It's been a long time since I've spoken to you." The line has a resonance far beyond its literal meaning. In the years following the breakup of the Velvet Underground, Reed's bizarre and half-baked semistardom became a travesty of his art, as one of the most magical raw nerves of our time coarsened into a crude, death-trip clown.
Whereas Reed with the Velvets had once broken our hearts with a compelling vision of sin and redemption, he now broke them by turning his post-Underground LPs into floating freak shows. While much of Reed's solo work was far from bad, one has to remember that his admirers expected him to surpass Bob Dylan, and the Velvets' LPs had promised nothing less. So each comeback failed—not so much as rock & roll but as myth—and the repeated failures only compounded the problem. [In "Street Hassle" he explains what went wrong]. (p. 53)
While a less vulnerable artist might have been able to resolve [the] contradictions, the salvation-obsessed Reed wasn't even a very adept or convincing sellout. Because he was so sensitive, his posturing as the Rock & Roll Animal was too painfully cruel to be valid even on its own slumming terms. It's possible total dishonesty could have made Reed a commercial success, but the partial and intermittent dishonesty he practiced marred even his good records almost beyond...
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Danger is what Lou Reed's music has always been about. And that makes it classic, vital rock 'n' roll.
Beginning with Reed's tenure in the Velvet Underground more than a decade ago, he has been fashioning some of the strongest music you can hear anywhere…. Street Hassle is one of his very best, bitterest and most adventurous records, prime rock unconditionally guaranteed to give you the night sweats….
Reed constantly recalls old rock songs, phrases lifted from ancient hit parades, but his images evoke Céline masquerading as an all-night FM deejay….
In the mid-'60s, [Reed] became the generative force behind the Velvet Underground, a band notable in the era of peace, posies and good vibes, for laying down rock music that virtually throttled the listener. Some of the Velvet's music is still among Reed's finest work, including a lengthy threnody called Heroin that is as devastating a drug song … as anyone has ever written.
There has never been anything polite about Reed's music, then or now; not a laid-back note or a smug lie….
[Tunes] in the album include a denunciation of a former associate called Dirt and, best of all, Street Hassle, the album's centerpiece, an eleven-minute kaleidoscope of destruction compressed into three separate dramatic vignettes and linked by a single musical phrase. Tough stuff, often outright scary…....
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Frightening. Moving. Repellent. Fascinating. And, ultimately, touching. That's Street Hassle.
Lou Reed rides the all-night shuttle between humorously perceptive observation and terminal mental burn-out. Along the way he accumulates artistic maturity. Street Hassle finds him rebounding from the joviality of Rock and Roll Heart. Instead (for the most part) here's the metallic android we love to hate. But unlike earlier incarnations (when we could ignore Reed's trivial tastelessness) the songwriting on this record is as chillingly effective as the Velvet Underground nightmares that brought Lou to prominence. A cruel mix of humanity with horror whets Street Hassle's razor's edge….
The album's obvious showpiece is the title cut…. The contrast between the repetitious (and therefore mundane) music, the emotionless vocal and the charged words makes "Street Hassle" one of Reed's crowning achievements.
Not everything on the lp is so resonant. "Dirt" and "Shooting Star" are both typical Reed put-downs … for the faithful….
["I Wanna Be Black"] is a dubiously ironic/sarcastic tribute to blacks, self-loathing whites or both; Reed conceives of racial envy in mostly sexual terms….
[Music] and words share an intensity that makes this undoubtedly the most powerful Lou Reed solo album.
Scott Isler, "Lonely...
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[Take No Prisoners's] real bounty is its formidable last side, featuring petrifying versions of "Coney Island Baby" and "Street Hassle"—the definitive accounts of Reed's classic pariah angel in search of glut and redemption. "Street Hassle," in particular, is the apotheosis of Lou's callous brand of rock & roll. The original recording … was Reed's most disturbing song since "Heroin." The new, live version of "Street Hassle" is an even more credible descent into the dark musings of a malignant psychology, littered with mercenary sex and heroin casualties, and narrated by a jaded junkie who undergoes a catharsis at the end….
Reed has created a body of music that comes as close to disclosing the parameters of human loss and recovery as we're likely to find. That qualifies him, in my opinion, as one of the few real heroes rock & roll has raised. (p. 12)
Mikal Gilmore, "Lou Reed's Heart of Darkness," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1979; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 287, March 22, 1979, pp. 8, 12-16, 18.
(The entire section is 169 words.)
What do you buy when you buy Lou Reed, and do you still need to buy him? It's now almost a decade since he described over four albums with the Velvet Underground, a perennial cycle—perversity to desperation to (illusory) redemption to the salve of hothouse pop—that most fail to complete during a lifetime. Is it fair for us to expect any more from him, and for him to expect us to buy this, his product?
A qualified yes. In his chosen career, Reed can hope to make money and satisfy his art more than grow old gracefully. "The Bells" correspondingly features a representation of familiar Reed themes, in a more consistent form than of late, with a decisive twist in the title track….
Set free to find a new illusion, Reed opts for a new vulnerability. Here, you buy a series of conversations and anecdotes (personal and general), leavened by a certain humour and a brutal, Manhattan attitude. Often tasteless, more often razor-sharp, rarely dull, Reed has the knack of telling a story well and making the explicitly personal general….
From all indications, however, Reed's personal inspiration is drying up on both lyrics and music; his choice of collaborators (always another talent), is impeccable…. The only cut that Reed writes all by himself, "Looking For Love," is the weakest on the album. Throughout, there are few audible memorable lines; agreeable and witty, yes, but a disappointment from one of the...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Lou Reed is a prick and a jerkoff who regularly commits the ultimate sin of treating his audience with contempt. He's also a person with deep compassion for a great many other people about whom almost nobody else gives a shit. I won't say who they are, because I don't want to get schmaltzy, except to emphasize that there's always been more to this than drugs and fashionable kinks, and to point out that suffering, loneliness and psychic/spiritual exile are great levelers.
The Bells isn't merely Lou Reed's best solo LP, it's great art. Everybody made a fuss over Street Hassle, but too many reviewers overlooked the fact that it was basically a sound album…. Most of the songs were old, and not very good, with a lot of the same old cheap shots.
The first indication that we've got something very different here is the no-bullshit cover art; the second, a cursory listening to the lyrics. Immediately, one notes the absence of mirror shades, needles and S&M. Lou Reed is walking naked for once, in a way that invites comparison with people like Charles Mingus, the Van Morrison of "T.B. Sheets" and Astral Weeks, and the Rolling Stones of Exile on Main Street. The Bells is by turns exhilarating …, almost unbearably poignant (all of the lyrics) and as vertiginous as a slow, dark whirlpool (the title opus). (pp. 93-4)
As for the lyrics—well, people tend to forget...
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The Velvets were the first important rock-and-roll artists who had no real chance of attracting a mass audience. This was paradoxical. Rock and roll was a mass art, whose direct, immediate appeal to basic emotions subverted class and educational distinctions and whose formal canons all embodied the perception that mass art was not only possible but satisfying in new and liberating ways. Insofar as it incorporates the elite, formalist values of the avant garde, the very idea of rock-and-roll art rests on a contradiction. Its greatest exponents—the Beatles, the Stones, and (especially) the Who—undercut the contradiction by making the surface of their music deceptively casual, then demolished it by reaching millions of kids. But the Velvets' music was too overtly intellectual, stylized, and distanced to be commercial. Like pop art, which was very much a part of the Velvets' world, it was anti-art made by anti-elite elitists. Lou Reed's aesthete-punk persona, which had its obvious precedent in the avant-garde tradition of artist-as-criminal-as-outlaw, was also paradoxical in the context of rock and roll. The prototypical rock-and-roll punk was the (usually white) working-class kid hanging out on the corner with his (it was usually his) pals; by middle-class and/or adult standards he might be a fuckoff, a hell-raiser, even a delinquent, but he was not really sinister or criminal. Reed's punk was closer to that bohemian (and usually black) hero, the...
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Lou Reed is the master of halfisms. The songs on "Growing Up in Public" are half-joking, half-serious, half-spoken, half-sung, half-finished, and half-raw, but somehow he ties it all together to give the album a tone of both self-mockery and personal bravery….
The punk and the comic intertwine on "Growing Up in Public." In one case, he describes "a weak simpering father" who is cruel to "a harridan mother," who in turn counsels her children against smiling. In another he naively reflects on heterosexual love. It's unclear just how much of this is autobiographical—though Reed, polymorphously perverse and proud of it, was recently married. Nonetheless, songs such as How Do You Speak to An Angel, My Old Man, and Smiles have the endearing awkwardness of public confession.
There are plenty of flaws to the record…. But when all his best attributes line up in the same groove—as on So Alone, an emotional roller-coaster ride in which he attempts to console a woman jilted by another man—"Growing Up in Public" becomes as powerful and as personal as a rock record can be.
Don Shewey, "Records: 'Growing Up in Public'," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazine, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 30, No. 7, July, 1980, p. 97.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
The Lou Reed dialectic continues. In the past, this artist's work has zigzagged between extremes of light and darkness with pendular regularity. The felicitously titled Growing Up in Public at first seems to have dug out of the emotional depths plumbed by Street Hassle (and, to a lesser extent, The Bells)…. Public's material is medium-to-up-tempo songs, thoroughly composed from start to finish. The lyrics are the thing here, emphasized by being printed on the inner sleeve—a rare departure from the Reedian norm.
Those lyrics give the lie to the album's boppy music…. It would be too ingenuous to take the words at face value—this is a Lou Reed album, remember—but the temptation sure is strong. Reed casually tosses around the first person singular …, and refers to parents on four of the album's 11 cuts. "Families" (on The Bells) was merely an appetizer in this respect; Reed's house is rocking with domestic problems. "My Old Man" is a sordid confessional about outgrowing blind father-worship …, "Standing on Ceremony" presents familial relationships from that father's viewpoint….
In contrast, Growing Up in Public's other major theme is romance. Again, Reed's own recent marriage encourages a personal reading…. The album even follows a loose structure: boy meets girl ("How Do You Speak to an Angel"), confesses his past ("My Old Man"), ends his current relationship ("Keep...
(The entire section is 387 words.)
With The Bells, Lou Reed fulfilled—maybe even laid to rest—a longstanding ethos: one of grim choices and unsparing accountability. A song like "Families" sounded as if it used up the whole of Reed's emotional being. It didn't seem possible that either his art or his life could ever be the same again. They can't. Growing Up in Public tells us why, and then tells us something more….
Growing Up in Public is an album about summoning high-test courage: the courage to love, and along with it, the will to forgive everybody who—and everything that—ever cut short your chances in the first place. As Reed himself has noted, there's always been a powerful personal quality to his work that, on the one hand, implied an "agreement of mores" between the artist and his audience, while, on the other, suggested that the singer and the first-person characters in his songs were more than likely identical. This led certain listeners—especially those reared on "Heroin" or Berlin (the latter an embittered dramatization of Reed's brief first marriage)—to applaud Lou Reed as a jaded proponent of decadence and nihilism. Conversely, most critics championed him as a compassionate commentator on sin and salvation in an urban mythos.
On Growing Up in Public, Lou Reed's material bridges the difficult chasm between moral narrative and unadulterated autobiography. In part, the new compositions are about...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
For more than three weeks I've struggled dutifully with this record. As with all of Lou Reed's music I was looking forward to it, but the longer it took me to reach an accommodation with Growing Up In Public the more disturbed and distracted I became. A dilemma: On the one horn Lou has only rarely wasted his time (or mine) over the last 15 years. On the other horn, taking Lou too seriously can lead to the dreaded [Lester] Bangs Syndrome, which turns normally clear headed critics desperately grim and feverishly apocalyptic, causing them to grapple to the finish with Lou in a two out of three fall steel cage feature….
However, as much of the writing in our critical journals regularly indicates, one can do a lot worse than Bangs Syndrome, especially since Lou Reed is the smartest person regularly recording rock 'n' roll. Taking him as seriously as I dare, I have finally concluded that Growing Up In Public is a difficult and unsatisfying album for several related reasons….
The music on Growing Up does not have palpable strength and character of its own, nor is it inextricably wedded to the content—it's often as clever as the lyrics, but it's rarely essential…. [The] songs, extremely—sometimes excruciatingly—personal, don't fall very far from the vest and the music is unable to enhance their universality and suggestibility as the best rock 'n' roll should. With the exception of a few codas...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
[The Velvet Underground] made four harrowing albums that exposed the seamy underbelly of the late '60s counterculture's acid-soaked dreams of peace and love. Songs like Heroin, Venus in Furs, Femme Fatale, I'm Waiting for the Man and White Light/White Heat, all of which left little to the imagination in their lurid detail, but still managed to seek redemption for man even in his squalor and pain….
Rock 'n' Roll Diary takes you from Waiting for the Man through Street Hassle, with a healthy mixture of tunes from each of Reed's many stylistic periods. If you don't have any of this (some quite rare) stuff, by all means, go out and turn on to one of the most literate songwriters in rock, a middle-class Jewish boy … whose neuroses and hang-ups mirrored his generation's now seemingly aimless search for values.
Still this otherwise honorable project warrants a few complaints…. [There] is a not-surprising bias toward Lou's Arista period, reflected in the unfortunate inclusion of three tracks from last year's Growing Up In Public, not one of Reed's strongest works. Still, all in all, this is a long-overdue retrospective for the hard-edged NYC street poet who never feared letting it all hang out in public, often with a uniquely touching vulnerability.
Roy Trakin, "Record Reviews: 'Rock 'n' Roll Diary'," in Hit Parader (© copyright...
(The entire section is 229 words.)
Robert A. Hull
The history of the Velvet Underground is so incidental that it almost doesn't matter. That is the first clue to the band's immortality, the very idea that their story is so offhand that it cannot eclipse the total impact of their music. The second clue is this: the very inadvertency of their actions is the best definition of the band's meaning. It's as if the Velvets' lack of foresight had, in some way, to be compensated for by an abundance of critical hindsight.
There is no tribute to the Velvet Underground that hasn't already been written, no praise that has not already been sung. Yet, as with the Beatles and Elvis Presley, the Velvets approach so close to the borders of myth that their story remains amorphous, adrift on the time of retelling. To write about the Velvets is to discover the frustration of [Jorge Luis] Borges' Book of Sand, a nightmarish text that never ends.
Many feel that the Velvets introduced (to steal the band's phrase) a New Age to rock and that with them modern rock truly began…. However, the real gift of the Velvets was out-and-out cultism, the beginning of an era when private obsession and solipsism would be the rule of thumb….
Even if their history seems accidental, the Velvets did intentionally cater to the idea of becoming a curio of cultism (why else name a rock group after an obscure paperback about sexual depravity?), and as a result, they became the first...
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