Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lou Reed 21: Magic And Loss

Following on from the elegy for Andy Warhol, Lou began to be more consumed by thoughts of death. This was nothing new to a man who chronicled drug disasters his entire career, but now people he loved were succumbing to the vagaries of age. The main impetuses for Magic And Loss were songwriter Doc Pomus and someone named Rita. (It has been suggested that the latter was either Rotten Rita, one of the Warhol crowd, or even the infamous Rachel, who’d graced some of his album covers in the ‘70s.) Rob Wasserman (bass) and Mike Rathke (guitar) return from New York, but here the drums are supplied by Michael Blair, who’s better known as a percussionist and a noisy one at that, as evidenced by his work with Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Still, that minimal approach keeps the sound clean and direct.
“Dorita” provides something of an overture before “What’s Good” provides a litany of observations of life and the lack thereof. “Power And Glory” appears twice—first as a lowkey track featuring the voice of the Legendary Little Jimmy Scott, and again as an out-and-out rocker. Both songs provide strange allegories and the horror at watching the effects of chemotherapy. “Magician” provides something of a contrast, sung from the point of view of the patient. Lou’s perspective returns on “Sword Of Damocles”, but he didn’t figure out what the melody was supposed to be before singing it, which is probably why Billy Corgan thought he could steal it for “Disarm”. “Goodby Mass” is pretty straightforward, capturing the sadness and futility one might feel at a funeral, while “Cremation” reiterates the usual metaphors about death.
“Dreamin’” sports one of his better developed melodies, to the point where the simple chorus doesn’t deflate the emotion of the memories within the words. Using all three chords, “No Chance” is another song from the hospital waiting room, but “Warrior King” needs only two chords to wish for the power to choose who lives and who dies. The most striking track is “Harry’s Circumcision”, a black monologue in the vein of “The Gift”, this one detailing a failed suicide. “Gassed And Stoked” takes the music down to one chord with the quickest change to A, only the title doesn’t match with the idea in the lyrics. By the time the title track closes the program, we’re just a little weary.
Lou saw Magic And Loss as a major work, giving each song title a descriptive literary subtitle (“The Thesis”, “Regret”, “Revenge” etc.) and promoting the album with performances of the songs in order. It’s not as catchy as New York, which is understandable considering the subject matter, nor is it a go-to party album, but at the cusp of the grunge era, it stands out as a cerebral effort in an otherwise non-cerebral field.

Lou Reed Magic And Loss (1992)—3

1 comment:

  1. I think we broadly agree!