Out There

Legendary heart
Set the Twilight Reeling
Lou Reed
Warner Bros. Records

Lou Reed's rock is casual and careless, and he still sings like most people talk (in Brooklyn, anyway), spitting out his big words in a monotone rant unchanged over the decades. Age hasn't made him complacent, but maybe softer around the long-tattered edges: One minute here, he's a nostalgic old man fondly recalling the chocolate egg creams he used to get as a kid at Becky's on King's Highway ("You scream, I scream, we all want egg cream"); the next, he's a self-proclaimed "New York City man" hustling his ass to a woman who may or may not want him.

Somewhere in the middle of all that is the real Lou Reed--the tough-guy poet, the romantic New Yorker, the middle-aged rocker who finally realizes it's harder to "Hang on to Your Emotions" than it is to fake someone else's. Set the Twilight Reeling is classic Lou Reed in that its success comes piecemeal: He tries too hard to turn the throwaways into masterpieces, he gets lazy or too wordy (imagine that) when he does manage to say something, and in between he reveals the grand and intimate truths everyone already knows but needs to be reminded of every now and then. The trick is keeping up with Reed as he trips over his own tongue along the way.

The obvious and unfortunately titled "Sex with Your Parents Part II" (in which Reed gives new meaning to the phrase "family values" while asserting that Bob Dole's more disgusting than fucking your mom), "Hookywooky" (a lovers' imagined rooftop dance), and "Egg Cream" hint at the disposable record Twilight isn't at its core; and "The Adventurer" is the song Reed has been writing since the Velvet Underground. "Did you find that sturdy knowledge that eluded you in college?" he wonders, again. "Did you find that super vortex that could cause your cerebral cortex to lose its grip?"

"Riptide," though, uncovers the baleful rocker inside Reed like no work since The Blue Mask: It seethes and breathes, his flat voice shouting and fighting against an almost atonal mŽlange of feedback and other assorted guitar squeals and belches. It communicates its madness so literally it almost becomes a tangible feeling--no mere intellectual pursuit for this boy--the pain of watching (or listening) as a woman comes apart at the seams and wondering if its accidental or maybe even intentional: "In your sleep I heard you screaming/This is not voluntary/If this is life, I'd rather die." Just as the song degenerates into white light, Reed pulls out of his tailspin for the final song, in which he pleads, "Take me for what I am/a star newly emerging." He's still the optimist fending off the apocalypse, even as he begs for it.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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