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Music Review: Lou Reed – Berlin

Lou Reed’s third solo studio album, Berlin, has been released in its original vinyl form and takes its place along side of a long list of classic albums that have been restored to their original format by Sony/BMG via their Legacy Series.

After 1972’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and his Transformer album, Reed had a falling out with producer David Bowie. This led him to travel in a decidedly non commercial direction with his 1973 release, Berlin.

This album would usher in a dark phase in his career. The songs contained on this release are a difficult listen as addiction and depression are the common themes. Reed would rarely play any of the songs live for decades. Recently, he decided to tour with an orchestra and choir and finally present the album live. It was filmed during its theatrical run and released as a DVD entitled Lou Reed’s Berlin.

An array of musicians would lend their talent to the original release. Such stalwarts as Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce, The Brecker Brothers, Alice Cooper, Aynsley Dunbar, and many more appear on the album and help to make the instrumental backing some of the best of the 1970s. Rolling Stone Magazine would place Berlin at number 344 on their list of the best 500 albums of all time.

Berlin may be the most elegant sounding release in the Lou Reed catalogue. The use of orchestration and strings add up to a far different sound than the stripped down and even stark nature of many of his albums. On the other hand, the bleakness and despair of the lyrics grate against the ear and a sense of what is right and help to form a powerful counterpoint to the music. This combination of lyrics and music would be one of the most creative releases of Reed’s career and remains one the better albums of the 1970s.

The nine tracks tell a story and thus are best approached as a whole. “Caroline II” and “The Kids” which lead off side two are a combined twelve minutes of Greek Tragedy meets rock ‘n’ roll. “Caroline Says I” is an intense rock experience. “How Do You Think It Feels” may be the best of the nine songs.

Berlin is a relentless album and remains a Lou Reed masterpiece. The restored sound is clear and the packaging is loyal to the 1973 original. It may not be an album to listen to after a depressing day at work but it is an album worth seeking out especially on vinyl.

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