Lou Reed Jeff Ward - Essay

Jeff Ward

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 performance, it haunts the mind long after.

JeffWard, "Reed: Live and Well," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), March 16, 1974, p. 31.