Berlin – Live At St. Ann’s Warehouse
Sometimes you just forget about lesser, early albums by big name stars. That’s what happened to Berlin, Lou Reed’s second album after the wildly successful Transformer. Universally despised as depressing, uninteresting, and selling even fewer copies that the much later Metal Machine Music, Berlin is a classic ’70s concept album. The songs revolve around the unhappy couple Jim and Caroline, who are living in bohemian squalor near the Berlin Wall. They take drugs, run around, slap each other silly, and have a few kids to share the joy with. At the end Caroline kills herself, and Jim studies pictures of happier days. It’s a Robitussin and Quaalude moment if ever there was one.
After a few listens, the musical skill and sensibility of Reed stands out. While there was never a glimmer of a hit on the disc, it’s not that bad if you can ignore the lyrics and focus on the sound. “Sad Song” might have gotten some airplay if the topic wasn’t so dark, and perhaps someone like Cowboy Junkies will cover it successfully someday. If you’re a fan of Transformer or Sally Can’t Dance this is certainly worth a listen. If you’re a fan of Metal Machine Music, well, there’s not much anyone can do to help you.
The tracks were laid down in a series of three live performances, and the audio quality is typical for a live disc. The crowd noise is well controlled, limited mostly to pre- and post-song applause and the occasion fan whistling. Reed’s voice has shifted and sounds almost as if he has a dental plate. The guitar and drums are in tune and expertly played, but the dynamic range is limited and it might be worth looking up the original, even if than means digging out that old Pioneer turntable. Berlin – Live… is enjoyable, but not essential. The really grim lyrics don’t kick in until the second half of the set, but when they do, they’re enough to get your dog suicidal. Plan your emotional weekend carefully if you listen.
Matador Records: www.matadorrecords.com