De Amerikaanse zanger en muzikant Lou Reed (1942-2013) maakte aanvankelijk vooral naam als een van de leden van de avantgardeband The Velvet Underground. Maar ook nadat de groep ophield te bestaan, bleef Reed succesvol. Als soloartiest scoorde hij in 1973 een hit met het nummer "Walk on the Wild Side". Zijn albums Transformer (1972) en Berlin (1973) groeiden uit tot invloedrijke popalbums. In 1997 scoorde hij in Groot-Brittannië een nummer 1-hit met het nummer "Perfect Day". Reed bracht in 2011 zijn laatste album Lulu uit, een samenwerkingsproject met de band Metallica. Hij overleed in 2013 op 73-jarige leeftijd in zijn huis in Southampton, New York.
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Lou Reed, for Gen X at least, was the weird, slightly estranged uncle who could recite French poetry from memory while doing knife tricks with a personalized switchblade. When he came around, things could be exciting and a little uncomfortable, and even though you've never really known him very well, his legend loomed large. New York changed that. It was the first Lou Reed album that Gen X could justifiably claim as their own; released in early 1989, it was really more of a '90s album as it definitively put the '80s in the rearview. The bite of Lou Reed's lyrics was nothing new of course, but the generation coming of age in the late '80s had never had a new Lou album to attach themselves to; New York was released three years after the old-fart-trying-new-things vibes of Mistrial and more than eight years after The Blue Mask, the last Reed album to completely abandon "contemporary" sounds in favor of back-to-basics musicianship, crisp production, and strong, unforgiving lyrics that spoke directly to the spiritual affinities of a cynical generation. From the first notes of "Romeo Had Juliette," Reed's sonic mission was clear: By stripping his band down to two guitars, an electric upright bass, and a simple drum kit (played by co-producer Fred Maher and occasionally augmented with percussion by Mo Tucker), the attention was to be focused on the lyrics. Delivering a clear-eyed assessment of how devastating the '80s had been to the city he was so closely associated with, the lyrics on New York drop the listener into a city that is ravaged by AIDS, proto-gentrification, rampant inequality, and the "Statue of Bigotry," but still in touch with its expansive, egalitarian, no-B.S. heart. While today's ears may flinch at some of the lyrics ("spic" and "homeboys" particularly bristle), ears then flinched too. Reed knew what he was doing by writing plain-spoken and deceptively straightforward verses; by not mincing words and speaking like a "real" New Yorker (as if he had a choice), his astute observational skills and unassailable connection to the city give him both personal and poetic license to tell the intricate, intimate, and intense stories throughout New York. It's debatable whether New York actually needed a remastering—its sharp-edged mix was perfectly suited to a late '80s CD master and already was given plenty of air to breathe by the spare arrangements—but this new mastering does open up the album a bit more, mitigating some of the CD-era sheen while not muting any of Reed's slicing guitar work. The unreleased tracks are a similarly mixed bag, as the material is in various states of completion. "Dirty Blvd," for instance is presented in both a "work tape" that is little more than a riff memo as well as a "rough mix" that presents a meatier, more substantial version than the final album version that manages to somehow put Reed's voice even more in the listener's face. Meanwhile, non-LP track "The Room" is a disappointing, all-guitar instrumental piece that's out of context on such a lyrical album; it winds up sounding like leftover material used in the dissonant coda of "There Is No Time." The live material sounds like one of the all-New York sets that Reed performed around this time, but it is in fact culled from multiple concerts. While completists may balk at this, the final result is a quite strong collection of live performances. © Jason Ferguson/Qobuz