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Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Lou Reed | The Bells

In typical fashion, rather than building on the artistic achievement of his acclaimed 1978 release Street Hassle, Reed turned around and delivered his worst full-length.

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 the dismal Rock And Roll Heart with one of my (and countless others’) favourites — 1978’s Street Hassle. But in typical fashion, rather than building on that artistic achievement, he turned around and delivered The Bells, his worst album. Honestly, I prefer Metal Machine Music.

The Bells was self-produced and recorded in Germany in binaural sound (two mics positioned to give a pseudo-surround effect). Much of it is unlistenable. The fourth cut, With You, is maddening. Annoying like walking into cobwebs. It has pestering, shrill vocals. No melody worth mentioning. It’s the kind of song that makes you hit skip or lift the stylus with a shouted expletive.

Side 1 opens with Stupid Man, one of three co-writes with Nils Lofgren. It’s frantic… or rather, Lou seems frantic. Is he supposed to be a different character? The song is pretty good, but the vocals just give me anxiety. Apparently, the reason for the — I’ll say it — shitty vocals is that Lou decided not to prepare any lyrics. They’re all made up on the spot, in a bid to give the album a spontaneous feel. Half-baked, more like. This might work with jazz or the kind of moody stuff Air or BadBadNotGood create. But this is basically a kind of disco-jazz-pop fusion. It’s like making swamp water at the drink fountain.

The next track is Disco Mystic, and I have to say I prefer Disco Duck. This is just dumb. For all the promise of the ‘spontaneous’ lyrics, the words to this track are all found within its title. Maybe I just need cocaine to truly appreciate it. This is followed up by a thing called I Want To Boogie With You. This one would be totally fine without the ridiculous, ceaseless sax. It feels like Lisa Simpson is sitting in on the session. Then it’s the aforementioned With You, a song which I will avoid in future like a boathouse wasp nest.

Looking For Love is a rousing sax boogie with vocals like a nerd singing into his hairbrush. This is essentially Some Kind Of Wonderful. The same song, except stupid. Side 1 mercifully ends with City Lights, named for Charlie Chaplin’s famous film. Maybe he should have named it after an earlier one — Gentlemen Of Nerve. One good thing I’ll say about this sloppy cacophony is that at least he’s not doing the high-pitched shouting routine heard on most of the previous tracks.

All Through The Night opens Side 2, and has loads of ambient chatter throughout — and the muted trumpet of jazz legend Don Cherry. I just wanted this to stop after about a minute, but it’s five minutes long. All three of the songs on the second side get progressively longer — in sharp contrast to my patience with this album. Families, with music by “Moose” Boles, is next and constitutes the best song on the album. That doesn’t mean it’s any good. It’s repetitive, annoying and tiresome. This isn’t jazz; it’s a self-indulgent death march.

Finally, we come to the last cut — the nine-minute title track. You get two minutes of a one-note intro before the slow progression starts. It goes around once before holding on one note for ages and ages while the sax and trumpet riff away improvisationally. Spoken-word vocals start around 5:30.This is supposed to be some sort of finale: “Here comes the bells.”

I’m not even going to dignify this bullshit with a bell-end joke. I hate this record.



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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.