Lester Bangs

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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 heard….

Side one tends to drag a bit as Lou is constrained to try and express affection, although "Men of Good Fortune" establishes the protagonist's hostile passivity….

Side two is all welts and bruises and antipathy so total it becomes a sort of whimsy….

Has anyone in all of rock ever had such a vision of love? Well, yeah, all those old "My Boyfriend's Back" goingsteady whines were brimfull of cheap malice. But this is plain gutted. The real amorality all those other preening simps keep dancing around…. It all mounts to that snowcap climax, precisely as cinematic as his conceit wills it, leaving you drained and befuddled.

I told you this album was a charmer. Interviewed recently, Lou said: "I haven't been excited in years, but I'm excited about this." If this is what gets him excited, he really is one of the most loveable kooks of our time. Because Lou tops himself with each album, exactly proportionate to the degree that he gets more wasted-sounding and resonates with bigger, more dunced-out non sequiturs as the absurdity of his vision of evil becomes more apparent. Just like Caroline said, it's a bum trip, but it's the most interesting bum trip on the boards.

My only reservation is that where Transformer brimmed with variety, the unrelieved gloom and dirgelike tempos of Berlin may be too much for even us most enthusiastic sickie partisans of Lou's work to take. It's depresso beyond depresso, and if that's a kind of triumph, it's also a real limitation. Any vision of unrelieved squalor—even one as brilliant as, say, Tennessee Williams'—has gotta become self-parody after awhile. If Lou is as close to Williams as any writer in rock, we still gotta question where he can take it from here, and if he's not ballooning into an ever more epically grotesque joke. In the mean-time, get Berlin and treat yourself to the real goat's head soup—this quagmire is le sleze de la sleze. (p. 59)

Lester Bangs, "Brilliance You'd Hate to Get Trapped With," in Creem (© copyright 1973 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 5, No. 7, December, 1973, pp. 58-9.

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