Thursday, December 26, 2013

Album Review: Lou Reed - Ecstasy

Lou Reed released possibly his last great album, Ecstasy, in 2000.  Gone is the gloom of his early 90s work.  Opener Paranoia Key of E has a restless guitar driving the song along, and a 'street feel' akin to his New York album.
The bulk of the album however is some rather fine downtempo, reflective tracks.  Several of these (Mad, Tatters) feature brass which gives them a little soul, but they are quintessentially, fine exponents of being what they are: Lou Reed songs.  Tatters features a tender vocal and lyric, "I know you don't care but here's my last thought", before turning sour "our little thing is lying here in tatters".  It's one of many little triumphs on this album.
One of the standout tracks is the title track.  A gently pulsing guitar combines with a soaring melody, taken to further heights by a gorgeous Fernando Saunders bass part right at the outtro.  Uptempo tracks Mystic Child, Future Farmers of America and Big Sky by contrast feel rushed and throwaway.  Reed is better when hé does, as he says a "Modern Dance".  It's a kind of poppy rock song with a classic Lou Reed vocal.
On the ballad Turning Time Around, Reed's companion asks "what do you call love?". Reed answers, deadpan: "well I call it Harry.". There's no coming back from this.  White Prism prevents the album from sinking completely into wry, couch-sitting musings by injecting heavy guitars and drums yet NOT at the expense of the song, one which knows how dial up and down the intensity at will.  A "Rock Minuet" sounds like a truly pompous thing, and so it proves here, though Reed just about gets away with it on an oddly interesting song, thanks in no small part to some excellent guitar work.  Baton Rouge follows, a classic strum featuring more humour ("I once had a car, lost it in a divorce, the judge was a woman of course").
The ultimate folly though must be the EIGHTEEN minute Like A Possum which consists of little more than Lou Reed, poet of New York, roaring lines like "Possum shots! Possum runs!" over growling guitars.  That's not as good as it sounds.  It's followed by brief, palette-cleansing instrumental Rouge.  So not necessarily a smooth, cohesive listen, but an album full of well-crafted songs.