Friday, April 21, 2006

1989: Year Of The "Comeback"

Previously, I have posted about Neil Young's FREEDOM (1989), which was almost unanimously viewed as a "return to form" after the various musical avenues Neil had explored previously in the '80s. Bob Dylan released OH MERCY in 1989 to wide critical praise, after many had questioned his ability to remain relevant, especially after (mis)adventures such as the Traveling Wilburys (not as bad as some say) and Dylan & The Dead (no comment).

Then, of course, there was Lou Reed's NEW YORK (1989). I'm sure it's been said before, but can you believe it took Lou Reed until 1989 to release an album with the title "New York"? Phrased another way, is there anyone more associated with New York's rock music history than Lou Reed? It just fits, doesn't it? And, thank goodness he saved it for a great album.

All tracks written by Lou Reed except as indicated.

Romeo Had Juliette (3:09)
Halloween Parade (3:33)
Dirty Blvd. (3:29)
Endless Cycle (4:01)
There Is No Time (3:45)
Last Great American Whale (3:42)
Beginning of a Great Adventure (Reed, Mike Rathke) (4:57)
Busload of Faith (4:50)
Sick of You (3:25)
Hold On (3:24)
Good Evening Mr. Waldheim (4:35)
Xmas in February (2:55)
Strawman (5:54)
Dime Store Mystery (5:01)

Lou's liner notes instruct us that "This album was recorded and mixed at Media Sound, Studio B, NYC, in essentially the order you have here. It's meant to be listened to in one 58-minute (14 songs!) sitting as though it were a book or a movie." That's a good suggestion, but not always possible. Certainly, one can enjoy individual songs, especially when pressed for time. The liner notes proceed, "I'm on the left & the other guitarist, Mike Rathke is on the right. I did all the solos except for the two clean ones on 'Endless Cycle' & 'Sick Of You'." That makes me smile. He goes on at some length about personnel, and ends with this ultimate truism, "You can't beat 2 guitars, bass, drum." Amen.

Lou gives us a series of New York scenes. Some are atmospheric, others tackle serious issues head-on. He moves freely and easily across an emotional spectrum that includes anger, indignation, sarcastic wit (i.e., good old-fashioned smart ass), as well as introspection. And, damn, the guitar work is pretty hot. "Dirty Blvd." got a lot of airplay at the time, and is a great song. "Strawman" is probably the heaviest rocker. Lou's stinging lead guitar on "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" could literally poke holes in you at high enough sound levels. This is a great album! I can't believe how long it had been since I last listened to it, until I pulled it out two days ago.

"Halloween Parade", which Lou wrote about AIDS, contains these lyrics, "There's no Peter Pedantic/Saying things romantic/In Latin, Greek, or Spic". Lou has a sincerity that allows the occasional slur, I suppose. After all, it's part of the New York scenery. Sometimes you just have to love Lou's bluntness. I think I'll give you a few examples:

"A small kid stands by the Lincoln Tunnel/He's selling plastic roses for a buck/The traffic's backed up to 39th Street/The TV whores are calling the cops out for a suck" ("Dirty Blvd.")

"Some say they saw him at the Great Lakes/Some say they saw him off the coast of Florida/My mother said she saw him in Chinatown/But you can't always trust your mother" ("Last Great American Whale")

"Does anyone need yet another politician/Caught with his pants down/And money stickin' in his hole" ("Strawman")

Lou rips organized religion and militant "pro-lifers" in "Busload of Faith". He rips sensationalistic TV news in "Sick of You". And, he rips Jesse Jackson and Pope John Paul II in "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim". He attacks racially-charged violence in "Hold On". He addresses child abuse in "Endless Cycle". Heavy topics to be sure, and this could've easily been an album that drags the listener deeply into depression. Luckily, there's an appropriate amount of cathartic rage in the guitars. At least, for me, I find it thought-provoking, but oddly uplifting as well!!!

Bottom line: NEW YORK is a great album, and I highly recommend it. Of course, it didn't make the RS "Top 500 Albums". But, at this point, I'm hoping you've gathered just how irrelevant that is!


Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

I agree - Lou Reed came out of the fog for a while. Edgy music which drips with a New York sensibility.

Try Street Hassle from the mid-seventies.

12:00 PM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

And by the way, The Wilbury's were much better than than they seemed. Incredible synergy between those boys and I truly think they didn't get enough recognition for their efforts.

12:01 PM, April 22, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

I don't disagree, re: Traveling Wilburys (hence the paranthetical comment in my post). As a matter of fact, there's some vinyl I should pull out soon. I'd be willing to bet it's been more than 15 years since I gave the Wilburys a listen!!!

10:23 AM, April 23, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

I love this album, especially "Dirty Blvd." and "Busload of Faith."

9:26 PM, July 11, 2006  

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