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Rock - Released November 8, 1972 | RCA - Legacy

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released September 25, 2020 | Rhino - Warner Records

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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
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Rock - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released March 24, 1998 | 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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 19, 1976 | RCA Records Label

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released January 1, 1989 | Warner Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released October 9, 2000 | Buddha Records

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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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Rock - Released February 1, 1974 | RCA - Legacy

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Rock - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Rock - Released February 8, 1999 | RCA Records Label

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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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Rock - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Rock - Released April 1, 1984 | RCA Records Label

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Lou Reed never struck anyone as one of the happiest guys in rock & roll, so some fans were taken aback when his 1984 album New Sensations kicked off with "I Love You, Suzanne," a catchy up-tempo rocker that sounded a lot like a pop tune. After reaffirming his status as one of rock's greatest poets with The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts, what was Reed doing here? Lou was having a great time, and his pleasure was infectious -- New Sensations is a set of straight-ahead rock & roll that ranks with the most purely enjoyable albums of Lou's career. Reed opted not to work with guitarist Robert Quine this time out, instead overdubbing rhythm lines over his own leads, and if the guitars don't cut quite as deep, they're still wiry and in the pocket throughout, and the rhythm section of Fernando Saunders and Fred Maher rocks hard with a tough, sinewy groove. And while much of New Sensations finds Reed in a surprisingly optimistic mood, this isn't "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by any stretch of the imagination. On "Endlessly Jealous," "My Friend George," and "Fly Into the Sun," Reed makes it clear that happiness can be a hard-won commodity, and when Reed embraces life's pleasures on "Turn to Me" and "New Sensations," he does so with a fierce joy that's realistic, unblinking, and deeply felt, like a man whose signed on for the full ride and is going to enjoy the good times while they last. Like Coney Island Baby, New Sensations showed that Reed had a lot more warmth and humanity than he was given credit for, and made clear that he could "write happy" when he felt like, with all the impact of his "serious" material. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 1, 1972 | RCA Camden

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Nearly 30 years after it came out, Lou Reed's solo debut suggests that neither Reed nor his new record company were quite sure about what to do with him in 1972. It would be years before the cult of the Velvet Underground became big enough to mean anything commercially, leaving Lou pretty much back where he started from in the public eye after five years of hard work, and he seemed to be searching for a different musical direction on this set without quite deciding what it would be; while the best tunes are admirably lean, no-frills rock & roll, there are also several featuring tricked-up arrangements that don't suit the material terribly well (at no other time in history would anyone believe that Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman would be a good choice as backing musicians for the guy who wrote "Sister Ray"). Lou also didn't appear to have done much songwriting since he left the Velvets in 1970; with the exception of the hilariously catty "Wild Child" and "Berlin," a song Reed would revisit a few years later, nearly every significant song on Lou Reed dated back to his tenure with the Velvet Underground, though it would be years before that band's recordings of "I Can't Stand It," "Lisa Says," or "Ocean" would surface. On its own terms, Lou Reed isn't a bad album, but it isn't a terribly interesting one either, and since superior performances of most of these songs are available elsewhere, it stands today more as a historical curiosity than anything else. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released October 30, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

From 1972 to 1986, Lou Reed recorded for the RCA and Arista labels, where he made several strong solo albums as well as a few creative missteps, and while he became one of rock's most respected songwriters, both labels seemed unsure of how to present Reed's work to the public. In 1989, Reed signed with Sire Records, one of the most artist-friendly labels in the business, and with Sire Reed recorded some of his most ambitious and imaginative works, beginning with New York, a song cycle that earned him some of the best reviews of his solo career, giving his career a much-needed boost. The Sire Years: Complete Albums Box is a specially priced ten-disc box set that includes in full the eight albums Reed recorded during his tenure with Sire -- 1989's New York, 1990's Songs for Drella (a collaboration with fellow Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale), 1992's Magic and Loss, 1996's Set the Twilight Reeling, 1998's Perfect Night: Live in London, 2000's Ecstasy, 2003's The Raven, and 2004's Animal Serenade. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 1, 1978 | Arista

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The rise of the punk/new wave movement in the late '70s proved just how pervasive Lou Reed's influence had been through the past decade, but it also gave him some stiff competition, as suddenly Reed was no longer the only poet of the New York streets. 1978's Street Hassle was Reed's first album after punk had gained public currency, and Reed appeared to have taken the minimal approach of punk to heart. With the exception of Metal Machine Music, Street Hassle was Reed's rawest set of the 1970s; partly recorded live, with arrangements stripped to the bone, Street Hassle was dark, deep, and ominous, a 180-degree turn from the polished neo-glam of Transformer. Lyrically, Street Hassle found Reed looking deep into himself, and not liking what he saw. Opening with an uncharitable parody of "Sweet Jane," Street Hassle found Reed acknowledging just how much a self-parody he'd become in the 1970s, and just how much he hated himself for it, on songs like "Dirt" and "Shooting Star." Street Hassle was Reed's most creatively ambitious album since Berlin, and it sounded revelatory on first release in 1978. Sadly, time has magnified its flaws; the Lenny Bruce-inspired "I Wanna Be Black" sounds like a bad idea today, and the murk of the album's binaural mix isn't especially flattering to anyone. But the album's best moments are genuinely exciting, and the title cut, a three-movement poetic tone poem about life on the New York streets, is one of the most audacious and deeply moving moments of Reed's solo career. Raw, wounded, and unapologetically difficult, Street Hassle isn't the masterpiece Reed was shooting for, but it's still among the most powerful and compelling albums he released during the 1970s, and too personal and affecting to ignore. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 17, 2015 | RCA - Legacy

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Rock - Released March 22, 2004 | Reprise

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Rock - Released April 17, 1998 | Reprise

By 1997, the "Unplugged" craze, in which nearly every rocker under the sun decided to look back on their songbook with tasteful and unamplified maturity, had just about run its course, but that wasn't about to stop Lou Reed from belatedly trying the same gimmick for his performance at London's 1997 Meltdown Music Festival. Reed's semi-acoustic performance was also prompted by the latest bit of electronic gimmickry to catch his fancy, a special feedback-defeating pickup system that gave his acoustic guitar "the sound of diamonds" (Reed's phrase). While it's difficult to say just what a diamond is supposed to sound like, it is true that his guitar sounds quite good on this set. Reed and his band approach the respectfully quiet arrangements with precision and no small amount of enthusiasm (especially bassist Fernando Saunders), and Lou is in unusually good voice here; one of the traditional failings of his live albums has been that he doesn't always sing and play well at the same time, but here he hit his marks with ease. However, you've got to wonder about the choice of material on Perfect Night; if Reed really intended this to be an overview of the breadth of his career, he wasn't doing himself any favors by throwing in "Vicious," "Original Wrapper," or "Sex With Your Parents," while "Kicks" and "Riptide" aren't especially well-served by stripping them of their electric guitars. There are enough good tracks here ("I'll Be Your Mirror," "Perfect Day," and "New Sensations") to indicate that Reed might have a good acoustic album in him, but before he tries something like Perfect Night again, he ought to sit down with some friends who can edit a better set list for him. © Mark Deming /TiVo

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Lou Reed in the magazine
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