Review of Lou Reed: Berlin
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Lou Reed: Berlin

Reviewed by Jason Thompson



ear Lewis Allan Reed,

Damn you, Lou. Every time I think you absolutely don’t give two shits for your audience anymore, you turn around and do some really quality work. But that’s how it’s always been since the demise of the Velvets, right Lou? And here we are now, 34 years later after your third solo album “Berlin” was officially released and died a painful death. Here we are watching you perform it live in its entirety in 2007 at St. Ann’s with director Julian Schnabel helming the visuals. And dammit, Lou, you didn’t disappoint at all. In fact, this is probably how this work should have always been. It was just hard to get it fully realized back in ’73 when everyone was snorting this and that and even your producer Bob Ezrin was freaking out during the recording sessions.

The label even managed to make too big a thing of it in the promos. “A cinema for the ears” or something like that. And – even more pompously – “The Sgt. Pepper of the ‘70s.” Yeah, well, I’m sure you probably laughed at both of those at the time. I mean, the Velvets were the farthest thing away from the Beatles, and by all accounts 1967 should have been your year. Does any other album released at that time still sound as immediate and “new” as The Velvet Underground and Nico? It’s doubtful. All that hippie shit and LSD were never part of your vision and that’s to your ultimate credit, Mr. Reed. But then when RCA expected you to turn around and score them some big cash with a “son of Transformer,” you refused and negotiated getting “Berlin” out there in return for two vacuous and commercial products (but hey man, I really always have loved Sally Can’t Dance even if you didn’t).

But anyway, yeah. This is how “Berlin” should have always been performed. It’s aged better than anyone would give it credit for. But then again, maybe it needs to be sung by a dude in his sixties who went through a lot of that crap that the strung out characters in the piece did. The children’s choir you assembled for “Sad Song” is perverse in a good way. And man, you really put the performances over, especially on “The Kids.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen the angry, depressed side of Lou, but there he was during that song. It was moving and riveting and those damned sound effects of the kids crying hit me exactly like they did the first time I ever heard that song. It was sickening and sad. It was right on the money.

So what’s it like to be able to do all this now, Lou? To take whatever work of yours from the past and make people finally hear it they way they should have heard it ages ago, if only they weren’t so fucked up? I mean, before this you managed to inspire a German ensemble to perform the entirety of Metal Machine Music in a live setting, which also happened to be met with acclaim. Were you just that far ahead of the curve, Lou? Sometimes I think you’re just fucking with me and the rest of your fans when you turn out crappy product like that “Live at Montreux” video where it seemed you didn’t give a shit about any of your songs. And then you turn around and do something like this that makes being a fan of yours worthwhile.

Julian Schnabel was definitely the right choice in directors, too. He captured the performance perfectly, and film of “Caroline” projected behind the band (and interspersed with the live shots to be better enjoyed by the DVD audience) was amazing. Much better than that goofy book that came with the original album and featured whatever unknowns “acting out” scenes from the songs. Yeah, this was really moving stuff. To be honest, Lou, I can’t ever say that “Berlin” was one of my all-time faves of yours, but this is stellar stuff. Like I said, it obviously just took time and the rest of the world to catch up with your vision. So thanks for making me a believer again. I mean, this is definitely more riveting than anything Twyla Tharp would have conjured. Decadence never looked or sounded better.

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