I’m not sure why but I find Lou Reed’s memorial lyrics way too explicit for my tastes. He’s so specific that it removes the universal appeal. I don’t normally have a problem with specificity in and of itself, and with Reed’s other lyrics but, for some reason, when it comes to death, that’s how I feel. (I am thinking of Magic and Loss specifically.)
And that was my initial impression here, too. Reed and Cale are extremely specific about who they are writing about. That’s the point, of course, but it also makes it hard for me to listen to this album as, like, a requiem. The advantage of something like a requiem, or some elegies, is they can be about the listener’s loss, too. This is about Reed and Cale’s loss and, to a lesser extent the art world’s and society’s. And so there’s a hurdle here for me, because I feel like if these songs were a little less specific, I could lose myself in imagining they were about the life and death of someone a little less unique, a little more accessible to someone who’s never met Warhol.
But the songs are wearing me down. The melodies are strong and are slowly making me either like the lyrics are not care about the lyrics. (And sometimes I really don’t love Reed’s lyrics here, as much as I generally like him as a lyricist. The few I can identify as Cale’s I like more. Which is not something I would have expected as I prefer Reed as a songwriter in general.)
But it’s really the strange arrangements that sell me. Recording without drums and bass is relatively rare for Reed – compare the sound of this record to New York for example – and it suits him. And Cale has always been the better arranger. His ideas are way less conventional and their united approach here gives this record a sound fairly unique in their catalogues. Sure, the keyboards reek of the era at times, but everything is sparse even when there are overdubs (though there are few). The sparseness really helps with the elegiac feel of the record and I think I would have struggled with this like I struggle with Magic and Loss were it not for how unique these arrangements are.