Monday, January 26, 2009

Lou Reed, "Berlin live at St. Ann's Warehouse"

It wasn't much of a surprise that Lou Reed finally decided to stage this album in its entirety -- much like "SMiLE", its eventual revival felt completely inevitable (which is not to say that is was unwelcome). Of course with post-Velvets reunion era Lou Reed, you can never be too sure what you're going to get, whether he'll stay true to his songs' original magic or ruin them with uncreative, perfunctory arrangements and goofy vocal variations.

Sadly, this album tends more toward the latter. Maybe it was impractical to recreate this album live in the 1970's, but rock performances with strings, samples, and extra vocalists are routine these days, perhaps even passe. And Reed's had the cultural cache and a large enough fanbase to justify pulling off something huge and outlandish for well over a decade. After thirty-five years, I was hoping for something completely OTT with thunderous walls of sound and massive choirs, but instead these live arrangements are arguably less maximalist than the original recording. Reed's vocals are always the wild card when he re-creates his old material, and here there's plenty of ruining going around, of which the largest offender is his snarling spoken word rant during nearly all of "The Kids", in lieu of simply SINGING THE DAMN SONG. These kinds of alterations have little to with his vocal limitations, for "The Bed" proves that Reed can still sing sweetly when he wants to, all while making appropriate adjustments for his lessening range. He changes up the vocals because he wants to, perhaps because he's bored with the original arrangements, perhaps because he enjoys improvising, who knows.

Stick to the original album, although curious fans will surely be unable to resist checking this out regardless.

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