Lou Reed - Magic and Loss Record Label: Sire
Release Date: January 14, 1992
As usual, solo Reed has a good idea and kind of ruins it. Each of the songs on this album has neat guitar work (especially the first half of the album) and lyrically they're alright, covering every kind of death and loss imaginable, but some of the execution is kind of half-assed. It’s undercooked, like Reed wanted to get the process over with; none of his boyish, in-the-moment charm comes through.
Reed’s youthful speak-singing is kind of out of place now – he's not Tom Waits, a wine that ages gracefully... he's your friend's junkie uncle now. There’s nothing “Sister Ray” about this album that would require a drugged-out monologue; these poetry readings could sit in a book next to Jewel’s and Billy Corgan’s. It’s time to retire. And I hate to say that about one of my idols, but it really is time to go and take advantage of your social security! Some of us won’t be so lucky.
And then, in addition to his awkward sing-statements, “Power And Glory” has what’s got to be the worst vocal cameo I’ve ever heard in my life by some confused old lady (a man credited as The Legendary Little Jimmy Scott) and there is no way to describe how song-shattering it is. I iced my ears after that one, and it was a little more than a month before I even attempted the rest of the album.
The first half of Magic and Loss is just depressing, in the good way, with finger picked chords and smart leads, but eventually it all gets a little more boring (you might start to get sleepy because there aren't any fucking shouting old ladies to wake you up) and as we get to “Warrior King” and “Gassed And Stoked”, it's pretty obvious that it's 1992, because of both the lame metronome drums and the super polished strip club guitar.
You gotta give Reed some credit for still thinking he is singing White Light, with his fragile and stressed tones, his tendency to forget the vocal rhythms (or tendency not to care) and his very very free use of the word baby. But even after cashing in every last Velvet Underground credit point, and even in considering that long-ass careers have their ups and downs, there’s no excuse for tunes this ridiculously nondescript and underdeveloped. My final note isn’t even explicitly about this album, but: Don't ever get old....
There are plenty of 'average' Lou Reed albums (Street Hassle without the title track is all filler, for a start), but Magic and Loss ain't one of them. M&L isn't about 'all types of death' - it's about one, and for anyone who's lived with or watched someone close die from cancer it's right on the money. Dramatic and real in the way Berlin tried to be (and sentiment and melodrama notwithstanding, got pretty close to) and in the way phoney put ons like the Blue Mask failed to. M&L is one of his great albums - and one day, unfortunately, you'll go back to it and understand that. In the meantime getting rid of that awful 'old lady's' voice is a must!