Lou Reed Michael Watts - Essay

Michael Watts

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 to his surroundings…. But his obsession with that aspect has become a little wearing. Without reversing his whole aesthetic one would have expected him to enlarge his preoccupations. It's not enough that all that "decadent" bullshit is trotted out again, especially when it's given the cabaret-styled heading of "Berlin." Then again, maybe he does have to spell himself out once more for his new audience. But oh! for that old terse style.

Michael Watts, "Broken Reed," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), October 13, 1973, p. 35.