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Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Lou Reed | Rock And Roll Heart

As its title suggests, Lou's second LP of 1976 is something of a musical throwback.

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:


Because Coney Island Baby dropped in January 1976, Lou Reed had enough time to put out two studio LPs that year. The second, Rock And Roll Heart, was his first for Arista after being signed by music mogul Clive Davis to his newly created label.

This is one of those rock ’n’ roll throwback albums of the mid-’70s, like David Bowie’s Pinups, John Lennon’s Rock ‘N’ Roll and Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things. Except Reed’s record isn’t a covers album. Well, not at first blush, anyway. Two of the tracks date back to The Velvet Underground era. With one exception, this is not an album I enjoyed. It’s Muppets music.

I Believe In Love kicks it off with sax. It’s a lounge boogie. This is the same label which signed Barry Manilow and this record isn’t terribly far removed from the kind of music Bar was turning out. Banging On My Own Drum is like a filler from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a stick figure of a song.

Follow The Leader is one of those songs dating back to the Velvets. They played it live but never recorded it. This is kind of in the same category as Lennon’s Elephant’s Memory-era stuff. You could put a Yoko Ono vocal over the music. Mostly it’s a one-chord jam. It’s boring, but perhaps the best one on the record. Garland Jeffries guests on the next one, the ballad You Wear It So Well. This is the first track which isn’t primarily a throwback. I don’t hate it, but it’s almost like a Reed impersonation. He basically just says the title over and over, repeated by Jeffries. It sure ain’t Sweet Jane or Perfect Day.

Ladies Pay is also not a throwback, but it tries to be overly anthemic with its dramatic tinkly piano. There’s an unrehearsed, unimaginative accent / lead guitar throughout, but it’s kind of low in the mix. It’s like Reed is trying to copy early Eno and missing the mark. For starters, that’s Reed on guitar and not Phil Manzanera. This is a tedious dirge.

Side 1 wraps with the title track, which sounds like something a teenager might have done on a four-track by himself in 1990. Nice chorus, though. The distortion on the guitar is terrible, and even though I’m aware the absence of any kind of swing is basically Reed’s style, it makes songs like this awkward and rigid to the point of embarrassment.

Flip this bastard record over and we’re subjected to the twirling saxophone beginnings of Chooser And The Chosen One. That twirling intro ends and you think it’s about to get good — but no. It’s an instrumental ,and the sax comes back. I thought it was a goner. Awful song. And this was released as a single in France. WTF?

Even more sax is waiting for you on Senselessly Cruel — which gets back to the throwback theme. This is one of those elbows-up, steppin’-out, mock-marching, old-people prancing, Billy Joel-like, two-chord, shit songs. Take the sax out and give the lead vocal to Iggy Pop and we’d have something.

Claim To Fame is a bit better, with a Wurlitzer electric piano replacing the piano from Senselessly Cruel. What the hell is Wurlitzer doing in a Reed song? Did Supertramp sneak in? This song has no hook. I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Vicious Circle showed promise. It starts as a slow acoustic ballad, but then the Wurly comes back and we’re dropped into a JT-era James Taylor song. The combination of Lou’s signature deadpan vocal and the pace of this bland Quaaludery make it feel like punishment. Next, A Sheltered Life tries to be jazz, but is just derivative and stupid. Somehow, this dates back to 1967.

The last track on this album is also the longest, at more than five minutes. Though really, Temporary Thing has no business being any longer than two minutes. It doesn’t do anything. With just two chords, it sounds like a song opening over and over. I guess it’s cool, but I’ll again point to Eno. If this had an arrangement more like Driving Me Backward, it would be so much more entrancing. I think that might have been what Lou was going for.



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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.