Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lou Reed 17: New Sensations

There’s something so joyous about an incredibly stupid song, particularly when it comes from someone with loftier ambitions. (Think “Happy Jack” and “Bang On The Drum All Day”.) That’s why, after years of preaching to a small choir, Lou Reed suddenly had a huge radio hit with a three-chord trifle called “I Love You, Suzanne”, with an opening couplet that stole the hook from “Do You Love Me” by the Contours and even spawned a music video complete with stunt double.
The tune opened New Sensations, a somewhat modern-sounding album that actually charted. Backup singers, some part of Jim Steinman’s go-to crew, add touches, making it sound a little too modern. The production is bright, as are the guitars, all but a few of which are played by Lou. The rhythm section of Fernando Saunders and Fred Maher remain in place, but Robert Quine was long gone.
The simplicity of the band keeps the album fresh, even if it doesn’t break much ground. “Endlessly Jealous” follows “Suzanne”, making up in chords what it repeats in the lyrics. “My Red Joystick” ties in with his strange pose on the cover, though it doesn’t mesh in the kiss-off to an ex-lover and various postulations about Adam and Eve; better to concentrate on the continual soloing over the single chord. “Turn To Me” is built on an archetypical Lou riff, and stacks a series of odd verses pledging devotion to unnamed individuals going through all kinds of unfortunate events. The title track ends up an homage to his motorcycle, which was also reflected in his endorsement deal for Honda scooters all over TV that year.
L. Shankar’s violin provides an exotic bent to “Doin’ The Things That We Want To”, which forces rhymes out of his appreciation for Sam Shepard plays and Martin Scorsese movies. The New York theme continues on “What Becomes A Legend Most”, pairing the tagline from a well-known pro-fur coat campaign with the type of chamber pop recalled from Transformer and Berlin. “Fly Into The Sun” embraces nihilism, while “My Friend George” discusses a friend who apparently did the same to violent ends. “High In The City” goes back to celebrating the simple pleasures of Manhattan, as does “Down At The Arcade” (or “The Great Defender”, depending on which pressing you have) in its own way. We can get Lou being fascinated by video games, but the delivery here comes off as pointedly cartoonish.
So while “I Love You, Suzanne” is definitely the high point to which the other songs fail to match, New Sensations still sounds like he put some effort into it. Again, not a classic, but not embarrassing.

Lou Reed New Sensations (1984)—3

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