17 April 2010

Lou Reed Week (Day Six)

(art by gary)
Berlin (1973 RCA)
For each and every album there is generally a time and place to put them on. For instance, this writer enjoys listening to Slanted & Enchanted in the morning, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain at afternoon time, and Wowee Zowee in the evening hours. However, 1973's Berlin by Lou Reed manages to escape most known time constraints. It's definitely not a record for the AM, and if it had to be pigeon-holed then it sounds best in the late night. The subject matter of Berlin is all the stuff, you're not supposed to use to write rock songs. That's always been Lou's M.O. up to this point, but the heroin usage on Berlin doesn't sound nearly as desirable this time around. Not when it's carrying spousal abuse, domestic strife, and children along with it.
At the beginning of the week, certain comparisons were made between the portfolios of Lou Reed and Hubert Selby Jr. If memory serves, then the exact quote had something to do with how this writer knows very little about New York except for what he read in Mr. Selby Jr.'s novels. This was meant as a complimentary nod towards both Lou and Selby, but perhaps some expounding is in order. What I like most about Selby's work is how it's kind of like all the shit from a Kerouac novel, but with the actual real world consequences of what comes with substance abuse and promiscuity. There's no sugar-coating. It's not presented as some groovy hip cat jive. Lou's music registers in a similar place in my mind, and while there are times that on the surface it seems like it's all just a party, repeated listens make it clear that there's more than just words and with Berlin this is the first time where this becomes apparent.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Berlin was panned when critics first heard it in 1973. After Transformer, they were pretty much expecting every album after that to sound the same and when the follow-up didn't they said "Fuck it." Well, "Fuck them", because I like this album. It's difficult, for sure, but it's not unlistenable by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in the last thirty years many have come forward and said that they dig this album. Admittedly, I had stayed away from it for quite a while because I heard it was a downer but after hearing it my stance has changed. It's probably the best Lou solo album there is. It tells a story, and it's up and down while being captivating throughout. If Lou wanted a great american novel then this was probably his ticket. The Blue Mask may have more quality lines of poetry, but Berlin has the ones that grab you. As a generally non-lyrics person, it is quite the treat to get sucked in so voraciously. Again, the subject matter itself is not a treat, but the presentation and preparation are top-shelf.
A quick scan of the track list shows that not only is there "Caroline Says- I", but there is "Caroline Says- II" as well. The two songs are somewhat pitted against one another even though sonically they share nothing in common, and lyrically they only seem to claim the same characters. Focusing on Part I, it almost has a swagger to it. To the point, where the listener wants to take the man's side. Caroline only uses him like a toy, and is very vile. However, the speaker seems to love her unconditionally and is willing to endure it. Coupled with Part II, it is essentially the centerpiece of the album. Either that, or it's getting late. Also, "Men of Good Fortune" is the best track on the record and one of the best Lou ever wrote period. Side Two tomorrow.

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