Lou Reed – Ecstasy

Lou Reed

This is a really tough review for me to do. What you have here is an artist with a backlog of material spanning 20 years, none of which I have heard. That’s right, this is actually the first time I’ve ever heard a Lou Reed album. I’m going to assume that there are other punks out there similar to me, so here’s a quick summary: Lou Reed was the Velvet Underground’s frontman, before he went solo way back when. He is a grumpy old man known as the “Godfather of Punk.” I have very little to compare this album too, save for a few reviews of this that I’ve read elsewhere. So here goes nothing.
The 40+ Lou Reed, still around in 2000, drags his old bones to the studio, records 14 more songs to add to his already massive catalog and releases, sales or acclaim be damned. Ecstasy is his latest work, and most reviews I’ve read say it doesn’t stack up well against his old material (I really try not to go by other people’s reviews, but I’ve got to have some kind of reference point here). So what’s my take on this album?
Lou Reed really surprised me. I thought this album would be very eccentric, very odd and angular, very disjointed (for whatever reason that’s just the impression that I’d formed over a long while). My first observation was the Mr. Reed’s work is much more guitar-driven than expected. It’s an odd blend of folk, rock and punk that is obviously influential to a number of bands (can someone say…Pavement?). Lou’s lyrics are a focal point of the music: he rarely repeats himself. The insert comes with a list of lyrics several panels long. Many of the lyrics are not sung so much as talked over the music. On roughly half this album, this works very well. On the other half…well…let’s just say it doesn’t work so well.
“Paranoia Key of E” is the album’s folky opening track. The track does not inspire much paranoia, but the odd ranting old man hooked me, so I guess the songs works on that level. The first great song on this album is “Mad.” The songs finds Lou angry of his wife’s discovery of an affair he’s having. That’s right, he’s mad she found out. “Who would think you’d find a bobby pin? It makes me mad, it makes me mad,” Lou laments through the song. The song is not only pretty catchy, its insanely funny coming from this irritated old musician.
Lou’s next stroke of genius comes way of “Modern Dance,” in which he rattles on about dancing in any number of countries. The song really about the changing roles of people in the modern world, and lines like “It’s all downhill after the first kiss” seem to really hit home. The last truly great song on the album is the harrowing “Baton Rouge.” This finds Lou reminiscing about his high school days, starting off with Lou simply describing the sights and the youthful innocence of school, before the lyrics go on to tackle divorce, abuse, lost dreams and discontent. The chorus finds the slightly disenchanted Reed repeating “So helpless.” Scary.
There are a few other marginal songs on the album, but unfortunately most of the songs just aren’t that interesting. “Future Farmers of America” rocks, but its boring nonetheless. The title track tries to be an epic but falls short. The album hits a low point with “Like a Possum,” an 18-minute dirge that not only sucks but also has the most shallow, lame lyrics of any song on the album (this is where Lou talks about crack, whores, and “feeling like a possum” for 18 minutes of your life that you will never get back).
Its too bad that this album as a whole fails, because there’s some really, really interesting ideas on it. I can definitely see where Lou Reed has influenced people, even at this stage in his career. If you’re a Lou Reed fan you probably already own this, and if you’re not, I strongly encourage you to check out Lou Reed, just not this Lou Reed. Though the album falters, I’ll take an old Lou Reed over most of the stuff reprise releases anyway.