Friday, April 6, 2012

Lou Reed 23: Set The Twilight Reeling

What with the Velvet Underground reunion, subsequent implosion, box set and hall of fame induction, Lou managed to keep busy. It was another relatively long stretch before he did an album on his own again, and when he did, it was something of a departure in that unlike his previous three, there wasn’t much of a theme. Instead, Set The Twilight Reeling has songs about about egg creams, dead underrated guitarists and patriphilia (if that’s a real word). Foul language abounds. Oh, and having also divorced his wife, the much-celebrated Sylvia, he fell headlong into a romance with performance artist and occasional musician Laurie Anderson.

A lovely hum of amp heralds that first two-chord ode to the “Egg Cream”, the chocolate soda with milk indigenous to Brooklyn. (Note the sly reference to “White Light/White Heat” on the final chords.) “NYC Man” could be a love letter to either the city or the citizen who took his heart, but the horns are a nice subtle touch throughout, and don’t overpower even when they get louder near the end. “Finish Line” is pointedly dedicated to the departed Sterling Morrison, and crams a lot of obscure references into the two-chord motif. He reserves one of the more complicated chord sequences (for him, anyway) for “Trade In”, an overt declaration of love that somehow manages to come off as sincere, perhaps because of the shaky grasp of what little melody there is, and within such unlikely rhymes as “book” and “schnook”. The woman in question turns up to add vocoded vocals to “Hang On To Your Emotions”, which otherwise hangs on the bassline. The tenderness is punctured by “Sex With Your Parents”, a tirade against Republicans whom, he suspects, have fulfilled a Oedipal precedent, resulting in the literal translation of a certain twelve-letter epithet.

On the CD, it’s an immediate jump to “Hookywooky”, a joyous stupid song in the vein of “I Love You Suzanne” that manages to hold on even through his tenuous hold on the concept not throwing an ex-boyfriend “off a roof… to die under the wheels of a car on Canal Street.” (He’s just a big softie after all.) “The Proposition” has an intriguing riff that the song struggles to live up to, while “Adventurer” follows a tasty 12-string intro to reveal itself as a distant cousin of “Fly By Night” by Rush. The volume goes up again for “Riptide”, about as close as Lou will ever get to Hendrix, with a portrait of a woman “out of her mind” suffering from some affliction or condition. The title track is another slowish poetic meditation, before building up at the end.

The liner notes say the album was recorded live with a power trio (presumably with overdubs on the basic tracks) so many of the vocals are sloppy, rushed and screaming for polish. But he’s all about the moment, so to suggest that he try to clean things up would go against his ethos, particularly when, like most of his albums, he spent the press junket crowing about how this time he finally was able to achieve the optimal guitar sound.

As a Lou album, Set The Twilight Reeling is catchy and memorable, right down the packaging, which utilized a dark blue jewel case and different typography throughout. In a career riddled with so-so albums, it’s one of the better ones.

Lou Reed Set The Twilight Reeling (1996)—

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