Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Later Works Of...Lou Reed

Everyone knows Lou Reed - the seminal fathers of all things indie rock The Velvet Underground, and then his early solo albums like Transformer & Berlin that regularly make those Mojo-esque "best albums of all time" polls, but I've always been fascinated by the part of his career between the glam-junkie era and then re-invented "thank god I've finally become hip again" New York era when he was just an embarassing middle-aged bloke with a guitar and a mullet.

In the 10 years between his last critically acclaimed album Street Hassle and the aforementioned "return to form" of New York, Reed released six studio albums that pretty much bombed or were ignored by the critics - punk had happened, dance music was the new thing and 80's studio techniques meant that even when Lou did come up with the goods it was suffocated by synthetic drum sounds and reverb (qv. The Blue Mask is widely regarded as one Reed's better 80's records but sounds incredibly dated to these ears)

1979's The Bells was the first album from this dark period and only contained 9 songs, maybe an indication of just how dry Reed's well was running. Each of the first 8 tracks is accompanied by a lame brass arrangement and takes in every R&B cliché going (particularly on the, presumably sarcastic, Disco Mystic). There is absolutely zero creative spark and no trace of the "good" Lou in sight.

Then something happens when we reach the albums closer and title track..

Don Cherry lets rip on free-jazz trumpet and Lou sets forth with a whispered string of consciousness lyric. It's almost like a rock version of Coltrane's Om. 8 minutes later and the horrors of the preceding tracks are forgotten, wiped away by a tidal wave of the avant garde. I probably love this song more because of it's carefully placed existence at the far end of such a bad album than anything else. It's typical of Lou Reed's stubborness and desire to annoy, yet, unlike Metal Machine Music it bears more than a couple of listens (and yes I have listened to MMM several times in it's entirety)

Lou Reed - The Bells

Just as the first Velvet's album married the sonic assault of European Son with the tender whimsy of Sunday Morning there are two sides to Reed's genius. "Tell It To Your Heart - again the last track and a hidden gem on 1986's Mistrial (where it was again obliterated by the sheen of the 80's studio veneer and preceded by songs of considerably lower quality) was reworked and included more recently on the Animal Serenade live set. Even the fat crooning sad clown from Anthony & The Johnsons can't ruin it for me. It's one of the most beautiful songs that Lou Reed has ever written.

Lou Reed - Tell It To Your Heart (live)

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