Thursday, July 25, 2013

40 Year Itch : I Am No Waterboy

When Lou Reed followed up his commercially successful 1972 album Transformer with Berlin, some critics thought he was committing some kind of commercial seppuku. Writing for Rolling Stone, Stephen Davis called the album a disaster:

There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them. Reed's only excuse for this kind of performance (which isn't really performed as much as spoken and shouted over Bob Ezrin's limp production) can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye, Lou. 

40 years later that same publication ranks Berlin #344 of the Top 500 greatest albums of all time.
the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide describes the album as "grandiose, decadent", and finally "one of the most depressing records ever made, and oddly beautiful in its own awful way."

I think the earlier review is closer to the mark. 

Lou Reed recorded with one of the most exciting rock artists of his time: David Bowie. And what was his take-away? To make a depressing album of cabaret tunes that form a song cycle about a doomed couple that wallow their miserable way into prostitution and suicide.

OK, you may argue, this is capital "A" Art. Then why is Reed taking two songs from his Velvet Underground days (Oh Jim and Carolina Says (II))? And just in case you want to immerse yourself in a quiet pity party, there's two minutes of screaming and crying infants in "The Kids". A portent ( like the first 15 seconds of the album) of Metal Machine Music.

    The funny thing: I actually like the way Lou reinvented some of these songs for his live tour --witness Rock 'n' Roll Animal and  Lou Reed Live ( both recorded December 21st, 1973).

And yes, the Waterboys got their name from this album.

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