Sunday, February 14, 2016

"New York," Lou Reed (1989)

The 1980s were a great decade for Lou Reed – to these ears, the only period where he created works of sustained excellence that could be spoken of in the same breath as his seminal work for The Velvet Underground.  1982’s “The Blue Mask,” 1983’s “Legendary Hearts,” and 1984’s “New Sensations” were all outstanding albums, and even 1986’s “Mistrial” isn’t half bad.

But my favorite is “New York,” the album with which he closed out the decade in 1989.  And although the songs are great, what I love most about the record is how it sounds.  It’s very basic – Reed and Mike Rathke on guitars, Rob Wasserman on bass, and Fred Maher on drums (with an assist from VU’s drummer Maureen Tucker on two songs) – and clean.  No embellishments, just a great band featuring two guitarists with the ability to match each other, note for note.

Lou Reed is one of those guys that you either love, or you don’t.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to Lou.  He doesn’t really “sing” per se, although his vocals are one of the strengths of the album.  In many cases it’s amazing wordplay, in others it’s telling a great story.  And when he’s pissed off, there’s never any doubt about it.  Favorites: “Romeo Had Juliette,” “Halloween Parade,” “The Beginning of a Great Adventure,” “Busload of Faith,” “Hold On,” “Strawman” and “Dime Store Mystery,” which sounds more like a VU song than anything else that Reed has ever recorded.

Christgau: A-. “Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation--all that's missing is a disquisition on real estate. I don't always find his politics especially smart--though I have no problem with his grousing about Jesse's Jewish problem, I wish he'd called the man on Hymietown rather than Arafat. But that's not really the point, is it? As usual, the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery--plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff. Plus, right, the music. Which is, right, the most Velvets of his entire solo career. And which doesn't, wrong, sound like the Velvets. Not even as much as Galaxie 500. Just bass, drums, and two (simple) guitars.”

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