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Rock - Released November 8, 1972 | RCA - Legacy

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David Bowie has never been shy about acknowledging his influences, and since the boho decadence and sexual ambiguity of the Velvet Underground's music had a major impact on Bowie's work, it was only fitting that as Ziggy Stardust mania was reaching its peak, Bowie would offer Lou Reed some much needed help with his career, which was stuck in neutral after his first solo album came and went. Musically, Reed's work didn't have too much in common with the sonic bombast of the glam scene, but at least it was a place where his eccentricities could find a comfortable home, and on Transformer Bowie and his right-hand man, Mick Ronson, crafted a new sound for Reed that was better fitting (and more commercially astute) than the ambivalent tone of his first solo album. Ronson adds some guitar raunch to "Vicious" and "Hangin' Round" that's a lot flashier than what Reed cranked out with the Velvets, but still honors Lou's strengths in guitar-driven hard rock, while the imaginative arrangements Ronson cooked up for "Perfect Day," "Walk on the Wild Side," and "Goodnight Ladies" blend pop polish with musical thinking just as distinctive as Reed's lyrical conceits. And while Reed occasionally overplays his hand in writing stuff he figured the glam kids wanted ("Make Up" and "I'm So Free" being the most obvious examples), "Perfect Day," "Walk on the Wild Side," and "New York Telephone Conversation" proved he could still write about the demimonde with both perception and respect. The sound and style of Transformer would in many ways define Reed's career in the 1970s, and while it led him into a style that proved to be a dead end, you can't deny that Bowie and Ronson gave their hero a new lease on life -- and a solid album in the bargain. ~ Mark Deming
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Punk / New Wave - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

Hi-Res 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
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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
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Rock - Released January 19, 1976 | RCA Records Label

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Pop - 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
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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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Punk / New Wave - Released April 7, 2015 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Pop - Released April 17, 1998 | Reprise

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Rock - Released February 9, 1999 | RCA Records Label

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

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

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Edgar Allan Poe was a man who usually looked on the dark side of life, had more than a few less-than-healthy romantic and sexual obsessions, was known to dabble in dangerous drugs, and was fascinated with the possibilities of the English language, so it's no wonder why Lou Reed regards Poe as a kindred spirit. In his liner notes to the album The Raven, Reed touches on the parallels between their work when he writes, "I have reread and rewritten Poe to ask the same questions again. Who am I? Why am I drawn to do what I should not?...Why do we love what we cannot have? Why do we have a passion for exactly the wrong thing?" Reed's obsession with Poe's work found a creative outlet when visionary theatrical director Robert Wilson commissioned Reed to adapt Poe's works to music for a production called POE-Try, and The Raven collects the material Reed wrote for this project, as well as a number of dramatic interpretations of Poe's work, featuring performances by Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth Ashley, Amanda Plummer, and others. The limited-edition two-disc version of The Raven gives a nearly equal balance to words and music; while the single-disc edition is dominated by Reed's songs, the double-disc set features a much greater number of spoken-word pieces, most of which have been filtered through Reed's imagination, with a more intense focus on sex, drugs, and conflict as a result. While the condensed version of The Raven sounds like one of the oddest and most audacious rock albums of recent memory, the complete edition feels more like a lengthy performance piece (albeit a rather unusual one), and while it lacks something in the way of a central narrative, the focus on the letter as well as the spirit of Poe's work seems a great deal clearer here. The pitch of the acting is sometimes a bit sharp (especially Dafoe, who seems to be projecting to the last row of the balcony), but the con brio performances certainly suit the tenor of the material and Poe's writing style. Musically, The Raven is all over the map, leaping from low-key acoustic pieces to full-bore, window-rattling rock & roll, with a number of stops along the way. Reed also touches more than casually on his own past as well, with new recordings of "The Bed" and "Perfect Day" added to the sequence, and for a man not known for his ability to collaborate well, The Raven is jam-packed with guest artists, including David Bowie, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Ornette Coleman, and Laurie Anderson, all of whom are used to their best advantage. The mix of ingredients on The Raven is heady, and the result is more than a little bizarre, but there's no mistaking the fact that Reed's heart and soul are in this music; even the most oddball moments bleed with passion and commitment, whether he's handing the vocal mic over to Buscemi for a faux-lounge number, conjuring up brutal guitar distortion while his band wails behind him, or confronting his fears and desires with just a piano to guide him. Truth to tell, Reed hasn't sounded this committed and engaged on record since Magic and Loss over a decade before; The Raven reaches for more than it can grasp, especially in its two-hours-plus expanded edition, and is dotted with experiments that don't work and ideas that don't connect with their surroundings. But the good stuff is strong enough that anyone who cares about Lou Reed's body of work, or Edgar Allan Poe's literary legacy, ought to give it a careful listen. ~ Mark Deming
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Rock - Released February 22, 1999 | 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
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Punk / New Wave - 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
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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
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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
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Rock - Released March 17, 2015 | RCA - Legacy

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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
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Rock - Released October 7, 2016 | RCA - Legacy

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In 1972, Lou Reed was a minor cult hero to a handful of rock critics and left-of-center music fans who championed his former band, the Velvet Underground, but he was unknown to the mainstream music audience. By 1986, Reed was a rock & roll icon, widely hailed as a master songwriter and one of the founding fathers of punk, glam, noise rock, and any number of other vital rock subgenres; he even scored a few hits along the way. If you want to know what happened during those 14 years to make such a difference, the answer can be found in The RCA & Arista Album Collection, a 17-disc box set that brings together nearly all of Reed's recorded work from this period. This set includes seven albums Reed cut for RCA Records from 1972 to 1975 (Lou Reed, Transformer, Berlin, Rock n' Roll Animal, Sally Can't Dance, Metal Machine Music, and Coney Island Baby), five he recorded while signed to Arista from 1976 to 1980 (Rock and Roll Heart, Street Hassle, Live: Take No Prisoners, The Bells, Growing Up in Public), and four more Reed made after re-signing to RCA in 1982 (The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, New Sensations, Mistrial). Despite the bulk of this set, it isn't quite complete; two live albums are missing, 1975's Lou Reed Live (outtakes from the shows recorded for Rock n' Roll Animal that were released without Reed's input) and 1984's Live in Italy (a flawed but enjoyable concert recording with guitarist Robert Quine anchoring one of Reed's best live bands). But this set beautifully charts the formative years of Reed's solo career. The early RCA albums see him finding his feet, slipping into self-indulgence and decadence before making his way back to his strong suits. The Arista albums herald Reed's return to strong, personal songwriting, even as he struggles with his demons and his ego. And a newly sober Lou returned to RCA to make some of his strongest and bravest music since leaving the VU (even if Mistrial ended that run on a stumble). Reed supervised the remastering of these albums for this release, and for the most part the sound is observably cleaner and more present, especially the LPs recorded using binaural sound, which have lost some of their murk. And the packaging is lovely; each CD is housed in a reproduction of its original vinyl jacket, and the hardcover book is full of rare photos, clippings, original liner notes, and interviews, including some candid conversations between Reed and Danny Fields. The RCA & Arista Album Collection doesn't include any rare or unreleased material (and the bonus cuts that appeared on the previous CD releases of some of these albums aren't here), but for serious fans who want to reacquaint themselves with Reed's catalog of the '70s and '80s, it has rarely been presented with this degree of care, and there's plenty of brilliant music to be found here. ~ Mark Deming

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Lou Reed in the magazine
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