Wednesday, 22 June 2016
"Berlin" by LOU REED [feat Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce and Steve Hunter] (1998 RCA Records/BMG CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...
Few albums polarise people (and fans) more than the terminally bleak yet brutally truthful "Berlin". It took me years to like it - and even now in 2016 - there are parts of Side 1 I can't bear to listen to.
But when I play "The Kids", "The Bed" and especially "Sad Song" from Side 2 all in a row - I also think it may be one of 'the' great unsung-masterpieces of the Seventies.
Some thought at the time that "Berlin" was uniformly cold and distant as all around Lou Reed seemed to be descending into a self-afflicted drug-addiction Hell. The infamous Rolling Stone review called it 'offensive' and wished it didn't exist somehow - while another more positive reappraisal likened its more grandiose moments to the inventiveness of "Sgt. Peppers". It also seemed like the Louster was trying to tear down the Glam Rock image and popularity of his huge "Transformer" album from 1972 with the monster "Walk On The Wild Side" hit single thrilling everybody (including David Bowie fans).
But "Berlin" was very different. Not a concept LP – not quirky happy-wappy crossover Pop either - just uber-realistic – aimless lives ending in casually bleak ways. It was probably just too much and too realistic for its 1973 audience - what with Cocaine and Heroin destroying everything around them and rendering certain areas of many US cities no-go zones (the same applied to cities in Europe too). "Berlin" only reached No. 98 in the US Pop & Rock LP charts - but faired much better in Blighty managing an impressive No. 7. Either way - I'd argue that the album's best moments are 'beautifully sad' and truly amazing. Lou Reed's "Berlin" sounds like no other record of the period. Which brings us to this exceptionally well remastered CD of it. Here are the doom 'n' gloom details...
UK released March 1998 (reissued in May 2003) – "Berlin" by LOU REED on RCA 07863 67489 2 (Barcode 078636748924) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 10-track 1973 VINYL LP and plays out as follows (49:34 minutes):
2. Lady Day
3. Men Of Good Fortune
4. Caroline Says I
5. How Do You Think It Feels
6. Oh Jim [Side 2]
7. Caroline Says II
8. The Kids
9. The Bed
10. Sad Song
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 3rd Solo album "Berlin" – released October 1973 in the USA on RCA Records APL1-0207 and in the UK on RCA Victor RS 1002. Produced by BOB EZRIN – it peaked at No. 98 in the US LP charts and No. 7 in the UK.
The CD Reissue supervised by PAUL WILLIAMS - the famously elaborate 'booklet' that accompanied original vinyl copies has been reproduced in the elaborate 12-leaf foldout inlay. You get those heavy-hitting lyrics, album and reissue credits and a critique of the record and its cultural impact by MICHAEL HILL. In his overview he claims (and rightly to) that the album reveals the 'real' Lou Reed - an invested yet aloof outsider commenting on a lifestyle and people he knew all too well. But the big news is the Audio Restoration done by BILL LACEY and MIKE HARTRY that is gorgeous. You can really hear Jack Bruce's Bass contributions on "Caroline Says I" and Steve Hunter's guitar on "How Do You Think It Feels" as well as Michael and Randy Brecker on the Horns.
As if a precursor to the doom-to-come - "Berlin" opens with a grotesque 'Happy Birthday To You' racket from some drunken bar that slowly segues into a lone piano and Lou whispering in echoed vocals about a five-foot ten-inches-tall lady in Berlin. He sings of 'paradise' but it feels like he's channelling the saddest Tom Waits observation. RCA USA tried "Lady Day" as the B-side to "How Do You Think It Feels" on 45 in October 1973 (RCA 0172) - bit no one noticed either side. Steve Winwood (of Traffic and Blind Faith) guests to on Organ and Harmonium to great effect ably helped by Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson on Drums. But that caustic number is as nothing to the poisonous "Men Of Good Fortune" - a song that plays of 'men of good fortune' against 'men of poor beginnings' with neither coming off particularly well. The first of the "Caroline Says" songs hits you next where she 'can't help but be mean' and wants our Lou to be more ‘manly’. The Side ends on "How Do You Think It Feels" - a straightforward question about the effects of speed pills. But my fave is the threesome of songs that end the record - "The Kids", "The Bed" and the amazing "Sad Song".
A junkie-mum is having her children taken away from her in "The Kids" where Lou probably did his 'best guy in the world' ratings no favours with lines like "...in the alleys and bars she couldn't be beat...the miserable rotten slut couldn't turn anyone away..." If that sounds cold and brutal – it is – but the soft acoustic strumming that accompanies the seven and half minutes of the song make it feel crushingly sad and real and truthful and somehow not nearly as mean and detached as it sounds. The same softly approach comes with "The Bed" – a song about a woman who took her life in the bed where the singer’s children were conceived (nice). It ends on the truly beautiful and fully orchestrated "Sad Song" - a full on seven-minute masterpiece that amazes me even now.
I suppose only a curmudgeon like Lou Reed could have made "Berlin" - poised to take the world by its 'wild side' - but instead he depresses the crap out of all and sundry. Will we ever see the like of his opinionated genius ever again...