Lou Reed - Berlin - Review
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critics' view

After his commercial breakthrough with “Transformer”, the purse strings were loosened at RCA and Lou got to work on an ambitious plan of producing a music album with a stage production – this “rock opera” thing was all the rage, “my version of Hamlet” as he put it. Lou himself sung and played acoustic guitar, and employed woodwinds, horns, piano, a mellotron and a lavish string section arranged by producer Bob Ezrin, who had recently worked commercial wonders for Alice Cooper. However, Lou’s secret concept was typically antagonistic – moving on from the wild side, this was a walk on the dark side.

The plot centred ‘round a couple of screw-ups by the name of Caroline and Jim. All seems well in “Berlin” at the beginning. It soon emerges, however, that Jim is a drug-addict who beats Caroline. Caroline is also a drug-addict and takes revenge on Jim by having sex with as many men as possible. Before long, their children – my god, they have children? – are taken into care. A devastated Caroline commits suicide. “Sad Song” serves as the epic grand finale. “Staring in the picture book, she looks like Mary, Queen of Scots. She seemed very regal to me, just goes to show how wrong you can be.” Just when you think you might allow Jim a degree of sympathy he pipes up: “I'm gonna stop wasting my time. Somebody else would have broke her arms.” What a schmuck.

Contemporary reviews struggled to be positive. Writing for Creem, Lester Bangs called it “a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancour that may well be the most depressed album ever made.” Rolling Stone opined that it was “so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance” on its creator. I do not understand these responses - and what a shame that they can do so much damage to an artist. Why should a gory music album be treated differently to a gory movie? Must we only favour music albums with a feel-good factor? I say give us this day, our daily Lou Reed, deliver us from the humdrum.

Sadly, the planned stage adaptation was shelved due to the negative reviews and poor sales. Bizarrely, Rolling Stone now reckon “Berlin” to be one of the 500 greatest albums ever made – therein lies the problem with multi-journo mags. You're better off with a one-man review site I reckon ; - )

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