Back in the fall when Lou Reed died I read any number of the tributes to him. I’ve written before about how I’ll take John Cale’s post VU career over Lou’s by a wide wide margin but I confess to falling prey to the hype.
I gave up on solo Lou after 1992’s Magic & Loss. I realized I hadn’t enjoyed his last several before that, was buying them out of habit. Since then I picked up the off reissue of older stuff that I didn’t have on CD or for some bonus stuff but none of his new material (The Raven? Metallica? Tai-chi?).
Then he died and I read all about his genius. Had I been wrong? Had I been missing out?
I decided to give Lou a second chance via those cheap Original Album Classic sets that the record labels have been putting out in recent years, you know the ones, 5 albums that you can pick up for about $15 via Amazon resellers. There are 4 such Reed sets and I picked up three of them, duplicating more than a few albums in my collections but filling in enough holes and getting some post-Magic & Loss stuff to make it worthwhile for the price—or so I figured. (I only picked up 3 sets because the fourth for some reason was going for $40, more than I wanted to invest.)
Over the last few months, I’ve listened to Lou Reed, Transformer, Berlin, Sally Can’t Dance, Coney Island Baby, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart, Street Hassle, The Bells, Growing Up In Public, New York, Songs For Drella, Magic & Loss, Set The Twilight Reeling, and Ecstasy.
Somewhere at about Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, Lou decided to stop singing and did more reciting of lyrics. I don’t know why as this clip from 2012 shows he still could sing if he wanted.
More, he stopped writing any good songs. There’s not an album from Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart on that I’d ever want to listen to again outside of Street Hassle. And from those 8 albums I don’t think I could put together a reasonable single album (LP length of 40 minutes, never mind a 70 minute CD) of much quality.
Poor singing, trite lyrics, so-so melodies, why bother?
Which led to the question, was he has as good as I thought he had been? The first three—Lou Reed, Transformer, and Berlin—hold up for me. Berlin, though, which I had long felt was one of the greatest albums of all time doesn’t strike me that highly now. Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is still one of the top live albums. Sally Can’t Dance and Coney Island Baby could produce a solid EP.
I think Lou might be another Robbie Robertson for me. A long career, hosannas of genius, but not nearly that much really there. Any maybe more than thought attributable to others (Dylan, in Robbie’s case, and Cale and Bowie in Lou’s).
Anybody out there want to go to bat for Lou?