This is a record to be played loud. Like a Formula One car, it doesn't really begin to perform until it's pushed close to the limit. As background music it isn't much, but powered up on a strong system loud enough to make enemies a quarter-mile away, Rock n Roll Animalrecorded live at Lou Reed's Academy of Music concert December 21stis, well, very fine.
Making enemies is all tied up with Lou Reed, anyway. I first heard Reed when he was part of the Velvet Underground nearly ten years ago, when somebody played "Heroin"... Read More
in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Northwestern University; it took the assembled brothers about 20 seconds to yell, "What is
that shit?" and shut it off. In those days you could offend almost anybody between the Hudson River and the Sierra Nevadas just by playing a touch of Velvet Underground. If Reed's songs didn't sicken them"Heroin," the only major pop number to praise shooting smack, or "Venus In Furs," with its loving invocation of boys kissing boots and writhing under the lashhis singing would. Smirking, arrogant, uncaring, he occupied the antarctic of rock.
What is surprising is that he should have the same effect today. One would have thought we had all grown up. When Berlinthe most controversial of Reed's solo albumswas released a few months ago, Reed was once again "disgusting" and "degenerate." Stephen Davis, writing in this magazine, characterized the record as "a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide."
Which it is. But I fail to see how that makes it a bad record. Berlin is bitter, uncompromising and one of the most fully realized concept albums. Prettiness has nothing to do with art, nor does good taste, good manners or good morals. Reed is one of the handful of serious artists working in popular music today, and you'd think by now people would stop preaching at him. Maybe his new album will force them to.
Rock n Roll Animal, an album of Reed standards, opens with "Sweet Jane" and a jam by the band before Reed takes the stage, which establishes that, unlike some of his past backup groups, this one is first-rate. The rest of the side is devoted to a towering, unsettling version of "Heroin." Each listener can personally decide the morality of this song ("Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life"); as a performance it is sinister and stunning rooted in a treacherous organ and strung tautly on a set of vaulting guitar riffs. The piece has the atmosphere of a cathedral at black mass, where heroin is God.
Side two begins with "White Light/White Heat," a tidy piece of elemental rock, and closes with "Rock 'n' Roll," a good, driving concert tune which, on the record, is entertaining but runs rather long. Between these two is "Lady Day"like "Heroin," a great performance. On Berlin, Reed sang "Lady Day" with a distinct, if faint, symp