Friday, July 22, 2011

Lou Reed 4: Rock ‘N Roll Animal

By now Lou was getting a reputation as the epitome of decadence, and he milked it for all it was worth. Onstage he abandoned the guitar, choosing to concentrate on singing and indulging in performance art. We haven’t found an exact date, but halfway through 1973 he morphed from the curls and whiteface—soon to be immortalized, and probably not coincidentally, by Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show—in favor of a buzz cut, lipstick and studded leather.
This is the image associated with Rock ‘N Roll Animal, a live album culled from a Christmastime show in New York City. Here the primitive sound of the Velvet Underground is nearly transformed into arena rock, beginning with the overblown (but still wonderful) extended intro to “Sweet Jane”. Guitars, played by a couple of guys who’d soon join Alice Cooper, intertwine over funky bass and keyboards before finally finding their way down to that immortal four-chord change as the singer walks on stage and the crowd goes nuts. A lengthy “Heroin” apes the dynamics of the original, but the guitar harmonies and fake Bach organ fugues have us wondering if the band bothered listening to the lyrics. “White Light/White Heat” delivers a nice, nasty crunch, with Steve Hunter doing his best Mick Ronson impression. “Lady Day” is fairly faithful to the album version (though Lou does scream his way through the lyrics, showing more emotion than he did on Berlin), but the extra funky “Rock And Roll” takes the song a little too far from its inspiration.
In order to keep their boy on the charts, only six months after the commercially successful Sally Can’t Dance, his label issued another six songs from the show as Lou Reed Live. Three songs from Transformer are set against two from Berlin and “I’m Waiting For The Man”, and while it’s always nice to hear “Sad Song”, the album doesn’t quite have the fire of the first installment. When, at the turn of the century, Rock ‘N Roll Animal was reissued with two bonus tracks, it merely begged the still-unanswered question: why don’t they just repackage the entire show and put the whole thing out in sequence? (Perhaps, at 87 minutes, it’s not economical to have on a double CD? Nonetheless, anyone wishing to compile a homemade version can do so, and find it preferable to hearing the albums separately.)

Lou Reed Rock ‘N Roll Animal (1974)—
2000 reissue: same as 1974, plus 2 extra tracks
Lou Reed Lou Reed Live (1975)—

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