Lou Reed Scott Isler - Essay

Scott Isler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Street," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1978 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), May, 1978, p. 69.