Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lou Reed 7: Coney Island Baby

As the ‘70s dragged on, glam split into punk and disco, and decadence took on new forms. And while he may not have been commercially viable, Lou Reed still confounded the expectations of his record label and challenged fans to keep up with him. In the magazines, he might have even had a nemesis in the form of Lester Bangs, whose continued attempts to corner him might have been considered malicious if he wasn’t such a huge (albeit frustrated) fan.
In a way—and this is a stretch—Metal Machine Music did expand upon some aspects of the Velvet Underground legacy, but those who’d followed Lou since before Transformer also knew him to be a sentimental fool, heavily influenced by doo-wop and Dion and the Belmonts. This was more apparent on Coney Island Baby, an odd collection of softer songs with flashes of sleaze. Acoustic guitars and backing vocals abound, with clean leads darting here and there.
Right off the bat he’s got a “Crazy Feeling”, which can only be love. Granted, the object of his affection has just walked into a bar pursued by “suit-and-tie johns”, but hey, the heart wants what it wants. (Note the “queen, such a queen” aside, undoubtedly a nod to Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”, itself a Reed homage.) On the surface, “Charley’s Girl” seems right out of the girl group era, but the cowbell places it square in the ‘70s, and “you gotta watch out” for her because she’s a narc. “She’s My Best Friend” was left over from the latter days of the Velvets, and is better musically than it is lyrically. Then we get to “Kicks”, something of a structural sequel to “The Gift” or “Sister Ray” in that it’s a two-chord jam, over which Lou talks about seducing and murdering the unexpecting, while two different party conversations go on behind, occasionally bursting through the mix.
Here’s another juxtaposition: unlike the similar title of one song and chords borrowed from “Satellite Of Love”, now Lou would have us believe he’s “A Gift” “to the women of this world” while background singers whisper and coo. The liner notes would have us he’s playing the pounding piano on “Ooohhh Baby”, which dominates over the lyrics about the usual downtown characters. “Nobody’s Business” begins with the rolling percussion from “Ocean” and a guitar part borrowed from “The Bed”, but turns into just another bluesy shuffle. The highlight is still the title track, a doo-wop influenced look back at his teenage years, complete with a dedication to his old school and someone named Rachel. Even that raised eyebrows — did he really want to “play football for the coach”? Over six minutes there is only the occasional deviation from the two-chord strum. After talking of impressing said coach, he finds a melody to illustrate being “all alone and lonely”, then a minor chord comes in when remembering “the princess who lived on the hill, who loved you even though she knew you was wrong” and hope that “the glory of love might see you through”. The “two-bit friends” are part of the soup too, but despite what they say, his delivery on throughout the song and especially the closing tag suggest that he just might be a human being.
Despite the similarities, Coney Island Baby manages to be an improvement on Sally Can’t Dance, simply because it seems more natural. Of course, what seems natural for Lou on one album will only be wiped away by his opinion on the next.
This is also one of the few Lou albums to be expanded in this century. The so-called 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition added six tracks: including two previously released outtakes, a contemporary B-side, and three alternates. “Crazy Feeling” is a little snappier, with no bells; “She’s My Best Friend” is twice as loud and twice as fast. The rejected take of the title track has a little more bite, with (we’re guessing) a drunker vocal along with a few lyrical variations. It’s interesting, but not as stirring.

Lou Reed Coney Island Baby (1976)—3
2006 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1976, plus 6 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Great review of a truly great album...the only problem is your review was
    a 4 1/2 star review but you only rated it a 3. Come on, this is one of Lou Reed's better (maybe best) albums. It deserves a higher rating.