Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lou Reed - Coney Island Baby (1975)

Reed’s Berlin and Transformer have long been favourites of mine, and the justifiedly mythical status of the Velvet Underground goes without saying. So how is it that it has taken me so unforgivably long to listen to Coney Island Baby? This is a compelling album which combines the joy and humour of Transformer with the darkness of Berlin – all set in Reed’s familiar undercultural milieu, and veering between the personal and the narrative. The first track and the last are standouts, bookending the album with moments of – sweetness seems an inappropriate word, but there is a low-key, unsentimental beauty and here which is the best of everything that word represents, one which re-emerges in evocative later works like Bowie’s Bring me the Disco King, or even Gary Wilson’s more romantic and less stalkeresque moments – while the addictive A Gift (unlike the Velvet Underground’s earlier manslaughterous take on that theme) is a slow-motion epitome of the uncomplicated guilty pleasure of sexual egotism. Meanwhile, we move into more disturbing – and experimental – territory with Kicks, a low-key thrill killers’ tale which reveals itself on repeated listens, replete with chilling rushes and sharp bites of sound. While some tracks are just a tad too close to other works – in particular 'Charley's Girl,' which is essentially a re-run of 'Walk On the Wild Side' – this is an album which easily stands with Reed’s finest work, a piece which, like Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit To Brooklyn, takes us on a journey through the tragic and sleazy beauty of the decadent and decaying American sixties and seventies underground, where tragedy and redemption become virtually indistinguishable but remain leavened with humour, and, despite the world-weariness and self-destructive tendencies, with a fundamental lust for life.

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