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Rock - Released October 30, 2000 | Buddha Records

Hi-Res Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
One would be hard-pressed to name a major artist who ever released an album as thoroughly alienating as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music; at a time when noise rock and punk had yet to make their presence known, Reed released this 64-minute aural assault that offered up a densely layered soundscape constructed from feedback, distortion, and atonal guitar runs sped up or slowed down until they were all but unrecognizable. Metal Machine Music seems a bit less startling today, now that bands like Sonic Youth and the Boredoms have created some sort of context for it, but it hasn't gotten any more user friendly with time -- while Thurston Moore may go nuts on his guitar like this for three or four minutes at a stretch, Metal Machine Music goes on and on and on for over an hour, pausing only for side breaks with no rhythms, melodies, or formal structures to buffer the onslaught. If you're brave enough to listen to the whole thing, it's hard not to marvel at the scope of Reed's obsession; it's obvious he spent a lot of time on these layered sheets of noise, and enthusiasts of the violent guitar freakout may find it pleasing in short bursts. But confronting Metal Machine Music from front to back in one sitting is an experience that's both brutal and numbing. It's hard to say what Lou Reed had in mind when he made Metal Machine Music, and Reed has done little to clarify the issue over the years, though he summed it up quite pointedly in an interview in which he said, "Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am." For the record, I did get to side four. But I got paid for it. ~ Mark Deming

Pop - Released January 1, 1989 | Warner Bros.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
New York City figured so prominently in Lou Reed's music for so long that it's surprising it took him until 1989 to make an album simply called New York, a set of 14 scenes and sketches that represents the strongest, best-realized set of songs of Reed's solo career. While Reed's 1982 comeback, The Blue Mask, sometimes found him reaching for effects, New York's accumulated details and deft caricatures hit bull's-eye after bull's-eye for 57 minutes, and do so with an easy stride and striking lyrical facility. New York also found Reed writing about the larger world rather than personal concerns for a change, and in the beautiful, decaying heart of New York City, he found plenty to talk about -- the devastating impact of AIDS in "Halloween Parade," the vicious circle of child abuse "Endless Cycle," the plight of the homeless in "Xmas in February" -- and even on the songs where he pointedly mounts a soapbox, Reed does so with an intelligence and smart-assed wit that makes him sound opinionated rather than preachy -- like a New Yorker. And when Reed does look into his own life, it's with humor and perception; "Beginning of a Great Adventure" is a hilarious meditation on the possibilities of parenthood, and "Dime Store Mystery" is a moving elegy to his former patron Andy Warhol. Reed also unveiled a new band on this set, and while guitarist Mike Rathke didn't challenge Reed the way Robert Quine did, Reed wasn't needing much prodding to play at the peak of his form, and Ron Wasserman proved Reed's superb taste in bass players had not failed him. Produced with subtle intelligence and a minimum of flash, New York is a masterpiece of literate, adult rock & roll, and the finest album of Reed's solo career. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal Music

Distinctions Sélection Les Inrocks

Punk / New Wave - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography

Rock - Released March 17, 2015 | RCA - Legacy

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography

Pop - Released September 6, 2013 | RCA Records Label

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Transformer and "Walk on the Wild Side" were both major hits in 1972, to the surprise of both Lou Reed and the music industry, and with Reed suddenly a hot commodity, he used his newly won clout to make the most ambitious album of his career, Berlin. Berlin was the musical equivalent of a drug-addled kid set loose in a candy store; the album's songs, which form a loose story line about a doomed romance between two chemically fueled bohemians, were fleshed out with a huge, boomy production (Bob Ezrin at his most grandiose) and arrangements overloaded with guitars, keyboards, horns, strings, and any other kitchen sink that was handy (the session band included Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Aynsley Dunbar, and Tony Levin). And while Reed had often been accused of focusing on the dark side of life, he and Ezrin approached Berlin as their opportunity to make The Most Depressing Album of All Time, and they hardly missed a trick. This all seemed a bit much for an artist who made such superb use of the two-guitars/bass/drums lineup with the Velvet Underground, especially since Reed doesn't even play electric guitar on the album; the sheer size of Berlin ultimately overpowers both Reed and his material. But if Berlin is largely a failure of ambition, that sets it apart from the vast majority of Reed's lesser works; Lou's vocals are both precise and impassioned, and though a few of the songs are little more than sketches, the best -- "How Do You Think It Feels," "Oh, Jim," "The Kids," and "Sad Song" -- are powerful, bitter stuff. It's hard not to be impressed by Berlin, given the sheer scope of the project, but while it earns an A for effort, the actual execution merits more of a B-. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released October 11, 1991 | RCA Records Label

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography

Rock - Released March 22, 2004 | Reprise

Apparently the notion of Lou Reed reinterpreting the works of Edgar Allan Poe didn't strike a positive chord with many folks, given the chilly commercial and critical reception accorded to Reed's 2003 album The Raven, and it seems plenty of fans were no more enthusiastic about seeing the material performed in person, since the tour staged to support the album found Reed playing smaller venues than was his custom. And in both cases, the folks who took a rain check really missed something; while The Raven was genuinely flawed, it was also one of Reed's most ambitious and compelling albums in quite some time, and the subsequent live shows found Reed and his musicians in truly superb form. Animal Serenade, recorded during the Los Angeles date of the tour, is a striking two-plus hour document of Reed and a fine ensemble in full flight; Reed brought along a small but potent backing band -- bassist and sometimes percussionist Fernando Saunders, guitarist Mike Rathke, cellist Jane Scarpantoni, and backing vocalist Antony -- and the performances presented manage to merge the intimacy of a small-group show with the force and passion of a full-on rock gig. The takes on "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Dirty Blvd." are both hypnotic and muscular, but the more subtle and measured interpretations of "Venus in Furs," "Sunday Morning," and "The Day John Kennedy Died" easily conjure up the same edgy conviction, and Reed's interplay with his group is marvelous. These folks don't simply back him up; there's a genuine sense of collaboration among the musicians that's one of the real defining points between good and great performances. Animal Serenade isn't the hardest rockin' live album Lou Reed has ever cut, but for the sheer commitment and power of these performances, it's in a dead heat with Live in Italy as Reed's finest concert recording, and makes clear that in his fifth decade in music, Lou can still deliver the goods -- and in some respects is actually getting better. A more than pleasant surprise, and truly fine listening. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released March 30, 2009 | Sony BMG Music UK

Lou Reed's calm, yet ominous song "Perfect Day" has been attracting attention since it first appeared on his Transformer album in 1972, particularly in the U.K., and particularly in the mid- '90s. In 1995, Duran Duran had a Top 40 British hit with it, and a version by Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando also charted. Then, in 1996, the Reed recording was featured in the film Trainspotting, giving it a new lease on life. Someone at the U.K. branch of BMG Entertainment's discount-priced Camden division seems to have thought that was a good reason to assemble a new compilation of Reed's work from the company's vaults -- he recorded for the BMG labels RCA Victor and Arista from 1972 to 1986 -- attempting to come up with a collection for someone unfamiliar with Reed or the song until its appearance in Trainspotting. Thus, we have this 18-track, 75-minute disc of songs culled from Reed's many albums of the period with an eye toward his calmer, more conventional side. You will not find anything as provocative as Reed's hit "Walk on the Wild Side" or "Street Hassle" here, nor anything as raucous as the live version of "Sweet Jane" from Rock 'n' Roll Animal. But you will find the title tracks from Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart, along with other mid-tempo rockers and ballads. This is a kinder, gentler Lou Reed than the one most people think of when his name is mentioned. Of course, it isn't an inaccurate portrait of the artist -- he really did record all these songs -- but it certainly isn't the whole story. Think of it as "Lou Reed Lite." No wonder that, shortly after this album came out, "Perfect Day" was used for a chart-topping various artists charity single. ~ William Ruhlmann

Rock - Released November 4, 2008 | Matador

At a time when the price of concert tickets is rising sharply and public demand is shrinking, a number of veteran artists have sought to make their shows seem more like events by performing one of their more celebrated albums in full as part of the concert, with the All Tomorrow's Parties and Pitchfork music festivals making this gambit a regular part of their annual programming. Lou Reed is an old hand at this game -- when New York was released in 1989, Reed performed the album in full and in sequence each evening on tour, and he followed suit for the shows supporting 1992's Magic and Loss. But it was a collaboration with artist and director Julian Schnabel rather than anything so crass as economics that prompted Reed to revisit his 1973 concept album Berlin for a series of multimedia concerts, with Reed and his band joined by a vocal chorus (including guest singers Antony and Sharon Jones) and a small orchestra directed by Bob Ezrin, who arranged and produced the original album. Schnabel filmed two of the Berlin concerts staged in New York City for a documentary, and Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse is essentially the soundtrack album to Schnabel's film. While in many respects these performances honor both the sound and the intent of the 1973 studio album, the Lou Reed who walked on-stage in New York in 2006 sounds recognizably different than the man who recorded these songs 33 years earlier. Reed didn't play electric guitar on Berlin, but he does here, and the elegant brutality of his soloing adds a new flavor to the melodies, and while three decades of wear and tear on his voice bring a welcome character to "The Kids" and "The Bed," the curious timing of his new phrasing doesn't serve his lyrics especially well. But Reed and his band (including Steve Hunter, another veteran of the original recording sessions) perform this music with skill and empathy, and while the highly polished production of the original album sounded a bit chilly, on-stage this music reveals a warmth and a damaged yet unaffected humanity. As an encore, Reed performs an additional three songs, and while "Rock Minuet" doesn't fare much better here than it did on the flawed Ecstasy, his umpteenth recording of "Sweet Jane" is full of life and Antony's guest vocal on "Candy Says" is a thing of rare beauty. In its original form, Berlin was a work of tremendous ambition that didn't quite live up to its own high standards, and this live recording seems to trade a roughly equal number of new flaws for those of the original album, but this performance sounds like a legitimate attempt by Reed to revisit his past without being shackled to it, and on that level it's a brave and compelling experiment that (often) works. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released April 13, 2004 | Warner Bros.

This recording of a 1972 radio show has been available in numerous guises for many years; the label listed is merely about the easiest to find as of the mid-'90s. This is inarguably among the finest of Reed's solo work, released or unreleased, split evenly between the Velvet Underground classics and highlights from Reed's early solo albums, with backing by the Tots, the group of unknown musicians who played with him in concert during the period. The sound is very good, Reed's singing is great, and the band plays in a raw and urgent manner that Lou should have employed on his solo albums, but didn't. The Velvet's songs are well-done and considerably different from the originals, and the versions of solo classics like "Vicious," "Walk on the Wild Side," "I'm So Free," "Berlin," and "Satellite of Love" slay the studio takes to shreds. Essential for Reed fanatics. (This material was officially released in 2000 on the Pilot CD American Poet.) ~ Richie Unterberger

Pop - Released May 13, 2003 | RCA Records Label

In 1982, 12 years after he left the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed released The Blue Mask, the first album where he lived up to the potential he displayed in the most groundbreaking of all American rock bands. The Blue Mask was Reed's first album after he overcame a long-standing addiction to alcohol and drugs, and it reveals a renewed focus and dedication to craft -- for the first time in years, Reed had written an entire album's worth of moving, compelling songs, and was performing them with keen skill and genuine emotional commitment. Reed was also playing electric guitar again, and with the edgy genius he summoned up on White Light/White Heat. Just as importantly, he brought Robert Quine on board as his second guitarist, giving Reed a worthy foil who at once brought great musical ideas to the table, and encouraged the bandleader to make the most of his own guitar work. (Reed also got superb support from his rhythm section, bassist extraordinaire Fernando Saunders and ace drummer Doane Perry). As Reed stripped his band back to a muscular two-guitars/bass/drums format, he also shed the faux-decadent "Rock N Roll Animal" persona that had dominated his solo work and wrote clearly and fearlessly of his life, his thoughts, and his fears, performing the songs with supreme authority whether he was playing with quiet subtlety (such as the lovely "My House" or the unnerving "The Gun") or cranked-to-ten fury (the paranoid "Waves of Fear" and the emotionally devastating title cut). Intelligent, passionate, literate, mature, and thoroughly heartfelt, The Blue Mask was everything Reed's fans had been looking for in his work for years, and it's vivid proof that for some rockers, life can begin on the far side of 35. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released May 16, 2003 | Arista - BMG Heritage


Pop - Released January 1, 1970 | Sire - Warner Bros.

With 1982's The Blue Mask, Lou Reed began approaching more mature and challenging themes in his music, and in 1992, Reed decided it was time to tackle the Most Serious Theme of All -- Death. Reed lost two close friends to cancer within the space of a year, and the experience informed Magic and Loss, a set of 14 songs about loss, illness, and mortality. It would have been easy for a project like this to sound morbid, but Reed avoids that; the emotions that dominate these songs are fear and helplessness in the face of a disease (and a fate) not fully understood, and Reed's songs struggle to balance these anxieties with bravery, humor, and an understanding of the notion that death is an inevitable part of life -- that you can't have the magic without the loss. It's obvious that Reed worked on this material with great care, and Magic and Loss contains some of his most intelligent and emotionally intense work as a lyricist. However, Reed hits many of the same themes over and over again, and while Reed and his accompanists -- guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Rob Wasserman, and percussionist Michael Blair -- approach the music with skill and impeccable chops, many of these songs are a bit samey; the album's most memorable tunes are the ones that pull it out of its mid-tempo rut, like the grooving "What's Good" and the guitar workout "Gassed and Stoked." Magic and Loss is an intensely heartfelt piece of music, possessing a taste and subtlety one might never have expected from Reed, but its good taste almost works against it; it's a sincere bit of public mourning, but perhaps a more rousing wake might have been a more meaningful tribute to the departed. ~ Mark Deming

Pop - Released January 1, 2000 | Reprise

Never let it be said that Lou Reed has lost the ability to surprise his audience; who would have thought that at the age of 58, on his first album of the new millennium, Reed would offer us an 18-minute guitar distortion workout with lyrics abut kinky sex, dangerous drugs, and (here's the surprise) imagining what it would be like to be a possum? For the most part, Ecstasy finds Reed obsessed with love and sex, though (as you might expect) his take on romance is hardly rosy ("Paranoia Key of E," "Mad," and "Tatters" all document a relationship at the point of collapse, while "Baton Rouge" is an eccentric but moving elegy for a love that didn't last) and Eros is usually messy ("White Prism"), obsessive ("Ecstasy"), or unhealthy and perverse ("Rock Minuet"). Reed genuinely seems to be stretching towards new lyrical and musical ground here, but while some of his experiments work, several pointedly do not, with the epic "Like a Possum" only the album's most spectacular miscalculation. Still, Reed and producer Hal Wilner take some chances with the arrangements that pay off, particularly the subtle horn charts that dot several songs, and Reed's superb rhythm section (Fernando Saunders on bass and Tony "Thunder" Smith on drums) gives these songs a rock-solid foundation for the leader's guitar workouts. As Reed and his band hit fifth gear on the album's rousing closer, "Big Sky," he once again proves that even his uneven works include a few songs you'll certainly want to have in your collection -- as long as they're not about possums. ~ Mark Deming


Lou Reed in the magazine
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