Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lou Reed 8: Rock And Roll Heart

The rock ‘n roll animal had become a serious liability to his label, and it says a lot about how your career’s going when even RCA dumps you. Still, Lou was still a name, and got an immediate lift from Arista, currently making millions on the back of Barry Manilow, but also taking chances with the likes of Patti Smith. They would indulge him for a series of iffy albums, starting with Rock And Roll Heart.
This was his chance to make a splash, and he missed the pool by about ten feet. The trouble is apparent from the start, as “I Believe In Love” extols the virtues of “good time music and good time rock ‘n roll” over a completely sterile backing borrowed from any contemporary TV variety show. While “Banging On My Drum” does feature his trademark rhythm guitar, the lyrics consist of the title, which is supposed to rhyme with “having lots of fun.” “Follow The Leader” might as well be disco, though his stuttering delivery is all speed, with little to add than to namecheck New York City. We finally have a glimmer of hope on “You Wear It So Well”, a minor-key piano-based ballad on par with similar tracks on his first three solo albums. “Ladies Pay” follows the same format, but has even less to say, and fewer chords to say it over. As poetry it doesn’t need music, and as a guitar solo, it needs a better place to wail. Yet somehow, for all its basicness, the title track works.
“Chooser And The Chosen” has a nice moody beginning, but it must have been too complicated to get lyrics, resulting in an instrumental with sax solo. He did manage to conjure two verses for both chords in “Senselessly Cruel”, and drawls some obnoxious subterranean homesick lines for “Claim To Fame”. Maybe he wouldn’t want to admit it, but “Vicious Circle” could well be a memo to himself, “surrounded by [his] so-called friends.” “A Sheltered Life” is twisted vaudeville, with opposing sax tracks, an odd leftover from a decade before. But just like the other side, this one ends strong with the role-playing in “Temporary Thing”, something of a follow-on from “Kicks”. He’d go back to this novel again, too.
Lou was starting to be reliable only in that he could be counted on for every other album. It’s hard to believe he approved the master of Rock And Roll Heart thinking it was worthy of his talent and intellect, but he did, and there it is. And his new label was stuck with him.

Lou Reed Rock And Roll Heart (1976)—2

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