Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll: Lou Reed - Transformer, Rock 'n' Roll Animal

The specialty store Pop Market recently offered a special package of seven of rock 'n' roll icon Lou Reed's albums at a low price. I'm slowly working my way through them and have reports on the first two.

Transformer (Simply Vinyl, 1972) demonstrates Reed as the poet of the streets, composing portraits of people and places as individual situations akin to poems or short stories. All of the characters are in states of Transformation (hence the title). Anchored by the surprise hit "Walk on the Wild Side" and produced by David Bowie, the album had enough cachet to be popular with both critics and fans. The music runs the gamut from strong, hard-hitting rock and roll on "Vicious" and "Hangin' Around" to more gentle fare like the dreamy "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love." Its an interesting, if schizophrenic, mix of music, sounding like Reed was trying to find himself, trapped in-between the glorious chaos of The Velvet Underground nipping at his heels, and the glam-rock scenes of London and New York City evolving around him. Transformer -

Rock 'n' Roll Animal (RCA, 1974) runs counter to the previous album, bringing a storming live band to the fore, with twin guitars, bass and drums revolving around Reed's vocals as the pivot point. Revisiting and reinventing classic Velvet Underground compositions, albeit in a far different personae that is analogous of a person living on a knife's edge. Developing after a startling guitar introduction,"Sweet Jane" completely reframes the song from its gleeful and innocent beginnings to a darker, seedier, glam-tinged performance. The re-examination of his former band's material continues with a blazing "White Light/White Heat" and peaks with an extraordinary thirteen minute version of the infamous song "Heroin." This song had always been about dynamics and the attempt to create the rush and nod effect of the drug in musical form. But on this version, Reed pulls out all the stops, moving from sharp lyricism to sheer terror and back again. A couple of newer songs are included on the CD reissue, "Caroline Says I" and "Lady Day" adding a couple of more characters to Reeds oeuvre before the band finishes the show with a long version of the Velvet Underground anthem "Rock and Roll." Rock & Roll Animal -

In a sense, these two albums and the controversial record Berlin that fell in-between them would set the pattern for Reed's solo career that continues to this day. Experimental art projects and guns blazing rock 'n' roll locked in an eternal battle for the shol of one of America's most legendary performers.

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