Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lou Reed 5: Sally Can’t Dance

Throughout Lou’s solo career, his most divisive albums upon release continue to do so decades on. His fourth studio album came about in the wake of the glam favorites Transformer and Rock ‘N Roll Animal, and such was his momentum and the fixability of the Billboard charts that Sally Can’t Dance remains his only top ten album.
Of course, just because something’s a hit doesn’t mean it’s good. Take the most commercial aspects of Berlin, and mix them with lyrics designed to provoke more than inspire, and that’s Sally Can’t Dance. There’s even less of a story here, despite the recurrence of one woman’s name. “Ride Sally Ride” continues somewhat musically from the last album, with its piano and horn opening, diminished chords and attempt at melody, but the chorus has nothing to do with Wilson Pickett. “Animal Language” begins with barking and uses both “bow-wow” and “meow” in its choruses. (We are not kidding.) Like a twisted nursery rhyme, a dog and cat meet unfortunate demises, and attempt to get high in the afterworld. A little more palatable is “Baby Face”, a five-minute slow jam for electric piano and jazz guitar, but instead of “Lady Day”, he’s saying “no no no” to this title character. If you want more cowbell, “NY Stars” should hold you over, percolating with a clavinet.
The one song that does stand out is “Kill Your Sons”, and not just because it’s the least sterile. Possibly the most honest song here, it’s an indictment of the shock treatment he underwent as a teenager, and a defense of the drugs he’d done since them. “Ennui” is pretty, but way over the top, with a choir of voices singing the bass line and that lead guitar chiming all the way through. The title track is too funky for anyone’s good, though it does explain why Sally had trouble riding, dancing, or doing most things. Finally, “Billy” is a sympathetic portrait of a high school acquaintance whose life turned out different than Lou’s own, and might be more palatable and affecting if it weren’t for a sax honking its way throughout.
Sally Can’t Dance is only awful in hindsight, when compared to Lou’s best work. Its notoriety precedes itself, and while we can’t recommend it, he would do a lot worse down the road. These days it’s hard to believe he really stood behind the sound of the album, competent as it is. It could almost be anybody’s album, except for Lou’s drowsy vocals.

Lou Reed Sally Can’t Dance (1974)—

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