Lou Reed’s death on October 27 rocked the musical world. The frontman of influential band the Velvet Underground, which pioneered the genre of alternative rock, Reed’s career spanned over twenty solo albums and collaborations with artists as recent and diverse as Gorillaz and Metric.
One of the earliest of these solo efforts is 1973’s Berlin, a concept album dealing harshly with topics of drug abuse, apathy, and suicide. Fun stuff, huh? Listening to the album in its entirety is rather like being accidentally pushed off a sailboat on the night of your senior prom: the shock of the cold, the struggle to breathe, the inevitable sinking that saltwater-soaked evening-wear will impel. Finally you’re fished out by some laughing friends, and you realize that your evening has been made that much more incredible by the contrasts you’ve felt.
Berlin is divided. Side one – remember, this was made in the days of vinyl – is jaunty and upbeat; side two is twangy and melancholic. The lyrics are emotionally ravaged all the way through. Reed’s abandoned some (but not all!) of the atonal deadpan that characterised his delivery through his Velvet Underground days, and lays this melodic expansion against a musical background ranging from traditional rock to lush orchestra. It is…an experience. Perhaps not an uplifting one, but one worth having nevertheless.