The Music Box's #8 album for 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2000, Volume 7, #9
Written by John Metzger
Let's face it — with Lou Reed, there is no middle ground, and people either like him or they don't. His songs can be bitter pills to swallow as he ravages the darker depths of the human experience with both a rampaging anger and a perverse sense of glee. His no-holds-barred and often brutal honesty can make his albums difficult, taxing, and sometimes downright uncomfortable to hear. Yet, that is also the beauty of Reed's songs. His chilling sincerity is gripping, and he consistently creates music that not only matches the emotion but also contains enough hooks to draw the listener further into his shadowy world.
For a little more than a decade, Reed has presented a series of albums — each of which focused on a single theme. New York pondered the decay of America, Songs for Drella was an ode to Andy Warhol, and Magic and Loss explored the meaning of life and death.
For his latest effort Ecstasy, Reed, with his typically gritty style, scrutinizes the fine line between love and hate and the subsequent scars left by a relationship gone sour. He wastes no time tearing deep into the heart of the matter as he and guitarist Mike Rathke ratchet their way through the opening Paranoia Key of E — cutting open psychological wounds and allowing the pain to gush forth unimpeded. As the song cycle moves forward, Reed tries to rationalize infidelity on Mad ("You said you're out of town for the night/And I believed in you"); he imagines the worst possible reasons a person may have for not being able to experience love on Rock Minuet; and he begs for release on White Prism ("I'm not good enough to serve you/I'm not good enough to stay/So it is that I beseech you/To please turn me away").
Yet, for all the rage and fury that Reed exhibits on these songs, there's a gentle side that rides beneath the torrential waves. It's not certain that he necessarily wants to escape his relationships as much as he wants to redefine them. On his sad-eyed soliloquy Tatters, he struggles helplessly with his loss of identity and the resulting breakdown in communication with his partner, but the somber dialogue in Turning Time Around attempts to clarify what love means as he strives to reconnect. Likewise, on the sprawling Like a Possum, Reed admits that there is a side of him that enjoys the single life, but he confesses that it leaves a hole in his heart the size of a truck.
Though the topic of love is thoroughly deliberated, no answers are ever offered, and indeed, they shouldn't be as the solution most certainly will vary from one person to the next. Reed's certain, however, that the American dream — the two-and-a-half strapping sons, the one-and-a-half flushed daughters preparing to marry, the two fat grandsons, the barbecues, and the family dog — leaves a bad taste in his mouth, and he's thoroughly convinced that the dysfunctional, suffocating nature of American relationships is the reason for the current high divorce rate. Marriage is not for everyone, nor should it be. Yet, this picture-perfect idealism is prepackaged as the way things ought to be — so much so that people are convinced that it's the only way, and they are outcast if they don't conform. "A big house holds a family/A big room it holds you and me/It's a big mess and baby makes three/But you can't hold us down anymore," Reed sings on the joyful Big Sky that concludes the album. In the end, he seems to come to terms with love, allowing himself to accept it, transcend it, and finally find his ecstasy.
Ecstasy is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box