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Lou Reed - The Raven

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 16 / 2 / 2003

Lou Reed - The Raven


Lou Reed's latest double album 'The Raven' is a musical tribute to the horror writer Edgar Allan Poe, and has proved typically controversial, being seen by many critics to be pretentious. Anthony Strutt, however, believes that there is more to it

Lou Reed and Edgar Allan Poe perhaps need no introduction, but I am going to provide one anyway. Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn and first began work as a musician in 1957, playing in various bands including the Jades who later became the Shades. He had by 1963, at which time he was working as a songwriter writing surf style ditties for Pickwick Records, already met Sterling Morrison, and then a year later he met Welshman, John Cale. John, Lou and Sterling formed the Primitives, releasing pieces like the throwaway single 'The Ostrich'. On the 11th of December 1965, they met Moe Tucker and this was the start of the band that became the Velvet Underground, the most admired and influential band to come out of New York,and the group that invented punk rock. The Velvets released only four studio albums, the first two, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' (1967) and 'White Light, White Heat' (1968) with John Cale, and then the latter two, 'The Velvet Underground' (1969) and 'Loaded' (1970), with his replacement, Doug Yule. Two outtakes albums, 'VU' and 'Another View' appeared in the mid 80's when noisy feedback guitar bands, such as Sonic Youth and the Jesus and Mary Chain, were back in vogue. The original line-up of the Velvets reformed in in '93 and played a handful of dates, and recorded a live album 'Live MCMXCIII' and one new track 'Coyote'. I'm proud to say that I met them all on that tour. After Lou left the band in 1970, they recorded 'Squeeze' with Doug on vocals, a fine album that was as much about New York as anything that Lou Reed has done, but it just wasn't the same, and the band finally split shortly afterwards. Lou Reed released his first solo album in 1972 which, also called 'Lou Reed', has been recently remastered. It was his next album, 'Transformer', which came out later on that year that, however, made him a star. 'The Raven' is Lou Reed's 25th album. Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809 and lived for a mere forty years. He is mainly known for two books of writings, his 'Collected Poems' and 'The Tales of Mystery and Imagination'. He also wrote comedies, satire, science fiction and in 1838 a novel called 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket'. Both Poe's parents were actors who died within two years of Edgar's birth. He was taken in by one John Allan and their relationship was always ropey. After being discharged from military academy in 1831, Edgar Allan Poe became a freelance writer and critic for newspapers. It was not until the publication of 'The Raven and Other Poems' in 1847 that he gained any success. He remained poor until his death in 1849. He was a writer of dark tales, and was addicted to early forms of magic mushrooms and L.S.D. and was also an alcoholic. Along with Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, he was one of the most important writers of nineteenth century horror fiction. Many of his tales were filmed by Roger Corman in the early 60's for American International Pictures, America's answer to Hammer Films. Most of these starred Vincent Price. A number of Corman's earlier works have influenced Denmark's 'the Raveonettes (See our articles elsehere). Three years after his last album, 'Ecstasy', a record which I liked, Lou has put out a new two disc CD, 'The Raven', based on a stage play called 'POE-try' also by Lou, and which was commissioned by the Thalia theatre in Hamburg. Disc One is 15 tracks long, and last 51 minutes and 32 seconds. 'The Raven' is not a rock album as such. It is an at times musical tribute to the life of Edgar Allan Poe, and, to tell the truth, it is aimed at Poe fans rather than Lou Reed fans, which is fine by me because I like both. Of the 15 tracks on Disc One, only 5 of those that feature Lou and his band are new tracks. There is also a recorded version of an old song, 'The Bed' from Lou's 1973 album 'Berlin', and a new version of his classic 'Perfect Day' from 'Transformer' which doesn't even feature Lou on the recording, but is sung instead by a guy called simply Antony, which is very black and soulful in its delivery. The last song on the first disc, 'Balloon', is a short and sweet number by Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Of the new Lou Reed tracks, 'Edgar Allan Poe', is very theatrical in its delivery, but features the lyric "These are the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, not exactly the boy next door". Well, yes, Lou ! It's hardly original and sounds a bit naff, but it does grow on you. 'Call on Me' is a beautiful number that also features Lou's other half, Laurie Anderson, who recites a poem, and which is as graceful as anything by Tindersticks. 'A Thousand Departed Friends' is a moody, dark instrumental, which is very experimental. It sounds like an updated Velvets and has a demon sax player who hangs above the track ready seemingly to attack at any given time. 'Change' meanwhile is song about changing. Surprise, eh ? The other pieces are spoken word tales or selected poems read by either Willem Dafoe who plays Young Poe or Steve Buscemi who plays Old Poe. Stand out tales or poems on this disc are definitely the cinematic 'The Fall of the House of Usher', which is tale of opium smoking, premature burials and deep madness. The title track, 'The Raven', which like 'The Fall of the House of Usher' was filmed by Roger Corman in the early 60's, is easily the best thing on the spoken side of Disc One. It has, however, got different words to my 1909 edition of Poe's 'Complete Poems', so I am not sure from which edition Lou has got his words from. Disc Two features 21 tracks and, at 72 minutes in length, is nearly 20 minutes longer than Disc One. This disc features 10 new songs and pieces of music that principally feature Lou and his band. The other 11 tracks are further poems and tales adapted from the works of Poe. Nearly all of these latter tracks feature background music from Lou which is totally electronic and that fits in perfectly. On this disc the best of these spoken word pieces are the essential 'Tell Tale Heart' and '"Annabel Lee', which is my favourite poem by Poe, but the rest of the tales do wander upon his madness as well. The musical numbers on this second disc are all very cool. First up is 'The Broadway Song', which doesn't feature Lou at all and which is very theatrical and very Hollywood. 'Blind Rage' , the first number with Lou on vocals, is kick ass rock 'n' roll. It has lots of loud feedback guitar, but Lou's vocal is a bit muddy. 'Burning Embers' is a husky vocal-based track, with war like drums and acoustic strummed guitar, and is a song in tribute to "The Tell Tale Heart'. 'Vanishing Act' is a slow ballad which features Lou backed by just strings and piano. 'Guilty Song' has a theatically treated vocal and some pleasant guitar and sax. 'I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum)' has a joint vocal with the Blind Boys of Alabama and some cheesy organ. 'Hop Frog' has David Bowie on main vocals. David does his best Lou style vocal, which is very short and very loud. The next track is a stunner. 'Who am I (Tripitena's Song' ) is a classic song that is strong as anything else that Lou Reed has ever done. Definitely a possible single, it is very beautifully arranged and, very possibly the best track that Lou has recorded throughout his entire solo career, is the album's stand out track. 'Fire Music' has no vocal, and is as savage as the early Velvets live or the untameable Jesus and Mary Chain. Completely electronic and with no guitars in sight, it shows that Lou has as many demons as Poe, only that he is more chilled about them these days.It is a return to the era of 'Metal Machine Music', but even better. The album closes with 'Guardian Angel' which is a melodic number, that has backing vocals by Kate McGarrigle and Antony, and a strong arrangement. After two hours, it ends. Is it worth £20 for the double disc ? There is a single disc version as well with edited highlights, but, while as I said earlier it is more for Poe fans and you may perhaps, as a result, not play it often, there is enough quality Lou Reed material on the double disc to make it into your collection. It is best played late at night loud through headphones. If this doesn't turn you on, there is also currently just out an Aussie three disc collection out called 'Legendary Lou Reed' and a new import remaster of 'Transformer' out with two bonus tracks and two demos, one of which is the acoustic demo of 'Perfect Day'. If not, just buy anything by the Velvet Underground. Everything by them deserves an audience. Disc One 1. Conqueror Worm 2. Overture 3. Old Poe 4. Prologue 5. Edgar Allan Poe 6. Valley of Unrest 7. Call on Me 8. City in the Sea/Shadow 9. Thousand Departed Friends [Instrumental] 10. Change 11.The Fall of the House of Usher 12. The Bed 13. Perfect Day 14. Raven [Spoken Track] 15. Balloon Disc Two 1. Broadway Song 2. Tell Tale Heart, Pt. 1 3. Blind Rage 4. Tell Tale Heart, Pt. 2 5. Burning Embers 6. Imp of the Perverse 7. Vanishing Act 8. Cask 9. Guilty 10. Guilty 11. Wild Being from Birth 12. I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum) 13. Science of the Mind 14. Annabel Lee/The Bells 15. Hop Frog 16. Every Frog Has His Day 17. Tripitena's Speech 18. Who Am I (Tripitena's Song) 19. Courtly Orangutans 20. Fire Music 21. Guardian Angel

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Lou Reed - The Raven

Lou Reed - The Raven

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