Monday, September 26, 2016

Lou Reed - Lou Reed

Somehow, I haven’t ever owned this, Lou’s first solo album, although I am intimately familiar with
practically every song on this release through other versions. Quite a number of these appeared on the expanded Loaded 2-CD set, as they were written while Lou was still in the Velvets. Others I have known from later records (Berlin) or from bootlegs. Now that I finally have this in my possession, I think that this may be Reed’s finest solo work – or, at the very least, right up there with the best.

My understanding is that Lou stumbled upon a previously unknown band called the Tots and made them his backing band for live shows and for this and the subsequent Transformer record. Their fairly simplistic style worked well on this post-Velvet material – not imitating the previous band by any stretch, but not straying all that far, either. OK, now I've done some research and apparently this album was done with studio musicians, although their sound is very similar to the live recordings of the Tots that I have heard. Alternatively, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman from Yes even make appearances here.

I dunno if this is the best version - I think one of the Velvet semi-boots VU or Another VU have wilder takes - but "I Can't Stand It" is one of Lou's best, out'n'out rock'n'roll songs - fun and energetic. A piano-driven semi-ballad, "Going Down" has some busy guitar work throughout, but nice female backing vocals and a fine melody and "Walk and Talk It" is another catchy, mid-tempo rocker with sharp-edged rhythm guitars and maybe a bit more lead guitar noodling than needed, again. Not bad, just maybe not necessary. There's been quite a few different versions of the quieter "Lisa Says", and I've always liked the tune in its various incarnations and dig the upbeat mid-section. "Berlin" ranks up there with one of Lou's more powerful and romantic melodies and the twin lead guitar lines are beautiful - all so much so that Lou created an entire album around this song's concept. On the other hand, while nice, "I Love You" is a pretty slight offering, which he keeps short, but "Wild Child" is a cool story-telling tune, with a catchy chorus and a nice refrain about Lorraine (just as an aside, this name came up very often in 70's rock songs - wonder why it was so popular with songwriters at the time?).

Another song that should have been highly commercial is the dynamic "Love Makes You Feel" - maybe too romantic coming from a cynic like Lou, but powerfully rhythmic, followed by "Ride Into the Sun", a head-boppin' mid-tempo rock number with some cool lead work (this does sound like Steve Howe here) and nice backing vocals. The finale is the epic "Ocean", a very cinematic number with crashing cymbals emulating the waves and lovely guitar lines. Again, this might not be the very best take but it is a classic.

Oddly, the liner notes put down this album as a minor release from Reed's catalog, but I find it one of his most cohesive records. Yes, it consists mostly of numbers from the Velvet days, but the songs are so good that this is easily overlooked, especially as these songs were not released in any form at the time that this LP saw the light of day. I'm glad I finally picked this up!