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Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Lou Reed | Magic And Loss

Lou's first solo album of the ’90s is a strong entry. Hell, it even had a hit single.

I have always considered myself a Lou Reed fan — but maybe I’m not. Or at least not an indiscriminate one — especially when it comes to his solo output. After leaving The Velvet Underground, the late legend made 20 studio albums as a solo artist, along with two more collaborations. Of those albums, I was only familiar with five. So I decided to listen to and review the remaining 15. At times it was like torture.

In a nutshell, Reed has a big basket of bonafide classics. Unique, unmistakable and ground-breaking songs which combine poetry and prose with a variety of music styles. But he also recorded a fly-ridden heap of awful, awful songs featuring his distinctive but poor singing, along with excessive sax and fretless bass.

Here’s one of the entries in his uneven catalog:


Lou Reed followed up 1986’s horrid Mistrial with two excellent albums — New York and Songs For Drella. The latter, which he created with former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale, was an intimate biographical tribute album for their recently deceased manager and mentor Andy Warhol. It went so well that they even reformed the band and performed some shows, including a tour of Europe in 1993, before disintegrating again.

Magic And Loss from 1992 is just as intimate as Songs For Drella. It deals with, as the title suggests, magic and mortality (he was mourning two more close friends). Musically it’s just as strong if not better than his two previous outings. It even had a No. 1 hit on it.

It opens with a soaring, short instrumental electric guitar introduction called Dorita, which sounds like something from The Wall. This goes straight into the big hit single, What’s Good. It’s not unlike New York‘s Dirty Boulevard, which also went No. 1 in 1989. Power and Glory comes after and is also really strong, albeit slower and loose. It fits the lyrics and melody perfectly and the instrumentation is much more timeless than his early ’80s stuff. It has great additional vocals on the chorus by Little Jimmy Scott.

Magician is a very sparse quiet number, and it stays that way, which is nice. Strong stuff. Sword Of Damocles is a little more upbeat — and features acoustic guitar, which up to now has been pretty uncommon in Lou’s catalog. This is one of those Reed songs about doomed drug addicts, like Street Hassle. It’s excellent, but the song title makes me think of Rick Mercer‘s sitcom Made In Canada, about a TV production company. One of the programs they made was a Middle Ages drama called Sword Of Damocles. It does flavour my enjoyment of the song in a negative way.

Goodbye Mass has a similar feel to Magician, except with drums (but no cymbals). Those who really like his stuff on Songs For Drella will love this, and it has a very nice musical refrain. The fretless bass is back. Cremation is next, and also has a wonderful refrain. Like, really great. It basically segues directly into Dreamin’, where things get a little gentler and more direct. Lou describes all the places and ways he pictures the friend he is missing. He conjures up apparitions in a tender, poetic but somehow visceral way. It’s all unique and fantastic. For example, there’s a line about watching furniture being moved out of his friend’s apartment, but his mind’s eye focuses on an empty red chair.

No Chance starts Side 2 on a more upbeat note, despite lyrics about regret:

“I see you in the hospital; your humor is intact
I’m embarrassed by the strength I seem to lack
If I was in your shoes
So strange that I’m not
I’d fold up in a minute and a half
And I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”

Warrior King comes next, and is more upbeat still — and rockin’. We get Lou’s Satellite Of Love voice here. It makes me wonder how many of the songs on Mistrial could have been saved with production like this — simple, mostly analog. It’s great.

The song Harry’s Circumcision isn’t one I’d have guessed would end up in my list of favourites. But holy smokes, it’s beautiful. It has spoken-word prose on top of a really likeable slow waltz. There may be some debate about whether or not Reed is a good singer, but there’s no question about his speaking voice. So great. I could listen to it all day.

Gassed and Stoned comes on with a chunk chunk chunk. Someone got one of those Boss Heavy Metal pedals. This sounds like Lou sat down next to a blues metalhead at Long & McQuade. But it’s still great. Power and Glory (Part 2) is similar — except with drums, too. Super, lots-of-fills drums. They’re played by someone named Michael Blair, but he sounds a bit like Steve Jordan.

The title track is the closer — an effective two-chord synth progression with drums and bass and thoughtful, dark lyrics delivered with an absence of melodrama.



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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.