Review by LarryG|
3 stars out of 4
Ecstasy is Lou Reed's best new record since 1989's New York. It's
fairly amazing that, at 58, after making some extremely influential
records with the Velvet Underground and some great ones on his own,
Reed still wants to prove himself. It had seemed that, after spending
the last few years working on an awful sounding rock opera and a
fairly slight rock album(1996's Set The Twilight Reeling), Reed's time
for making significant work was passing. But on Ecstasy, Reed is
energized by doubts about domestic life. He's feisty and compelling.
From the start of Ecstasy, Reed makes it clear he's ready to rock.
Paranoia Key of E is a lean, gritty rocker like New York's Busload of
Faith. Reed's storytelling skills are still intact. Reed, whose life
with Laurie Anderson is usually depicted as domestic bliss, sings
about the downside of "the mystery you call love." His lover is
sometimes "like an eagle, strong like a rock/other times it seems you
get unlocked and all your worst fears come tumbling out into the
street, into the snow." Reed's desire to realistically present his
troubled domestic life is fascinating. He's not afraid of looking
foolish or immature. On Paranoia, he mischievously responds to an
accusation of adultery by listing all the women he's not seeing.
Paranoia Key of E segues into Mystic Child with Reed and guitarist
Mike Rathke's crunching chords. Reed's voice is more tuneless than
ever but his fervor is powerful, matching a story of people "going
wild" on exciting, frenetic city streets and a troubled youth who
meets an inevitable downfall. Future Farmers of America is a kickass,
unsubtle rocker with Reed playing an angry slave. White Prism is
successfully ambitious, swingly back and forth from attacking rocker
to thoughtful ballad, depicting himself as an indentured servant in
his marriage, both in his willingness to serve and in the feeling of
being in a subordinate position that tells him it's time to go.
Ecstasy works on slower, reflective songs, as well as the rockers.
On Modern Dance, Reed's deadpan singing is appropriate to his confused
search for a model for a mature relationship in a world where "the
roles are shifting." The song has a sweet, relaxed tone that builds
into choruses that mix in buzzing guitars. Horns create a gentle,
reflective mood on Tatters. Reed's voice is appealingly unassuming as
he compares how others deal with problems with how his
nonconfrontational relationship does. At the end he suddenly shifts to
an angrier tone, stunned that the problems could mean the end of his
marriage. Ecstasy often compares favorably to his 1982 Blue Mask
record, the first of a trilogy with Legendary Hearts and New
Sensations which brought his work back from decline, by unflinchingly
examining his marriage. A couple songs have Blue Mask's stark,
unadorned feel. Baton Rouge, which is mostly Reed and his acoustic
guitar, is a moving reflection on past romances and directions not
taken prompted by his current romantic crisis.
Ecstasy is ambitiously diverse and usually works. Even the lesser
songs hold some interest. Mad is musically lazy but Reed is still
compelling singing about getting caught by evidence of dalliance. He's
pathetic. He makes nothing of it: I know I shouldn't have, "but I was
so tired." He blames his wife: "you said you're out of town for the
night and I believed in you." He feels sorry for himself:"nobody like
to hear 'why don't you grow up' at dawn." And he tries to charm: you
better call 911 'cause I'm gonna hold you tight." The title track is
less interesting than the more direct songs but strings and percussion
give it a cool, restrained atmosphere. Like their work together on Set
The Twilight Reeling, Rock Minuet shows that Reed and Anderson aren't
the best musical partners. It's a somewhat interesting experiment but
boringly arty. In the pre-CD era, the 77+ minute Ecstasy would have
been a double album. It has room for the silly 18 minute Like A
Possum. Reed may want to remind us of the Velvet Underground's classic
meandering, dissonant epics but it's really just self indulgent junk.
But he follows with Big Sky, a great melodic but tough rocker like
Loaded's Rock and Roll and Legendary Hearts' Bottoming Out. The easy,
triumphant music matches the lyrics about not letting the enormity of
the world and his problems "hold us down anymore."
Reed has worked with Rathke since 1989 and Fernando Saunders, a
bass player with a good fluid style, since 1982. As Reed shifts
between styles, he always sounds comfortable with his band. Ecstasy is
a very good, ambitious and sprawling work. Reed's crankier and his
voice has become flatter and even more conversational. So Ecstasy is
mostly for fans. But for followers of his work, Ecstasy is a must buy,
both for its music and its glimpses at Reed's home life.