CD Review: Lou Reed, “Legendary Hearts” and “New Sensations”

Written by CD Reviews, Music

Though he doesn’t get much love here at Popdose, Lou Reed has earned a spot in many of rock and roll’s hardest hearts. A whole generation of New York musicians grew up with him, the glam-rock movement idolized him, and punk may likely have never happened without his influence. Whatever he does or doesn’t do now, his legend is assured, and for a man whose songwriting formula never deviates too far from standard three-chord rock, he’s covered a lot of ground. With this in mind, it’s inevitable that a couple of his albums should fall through the cracks, which is why Iconoclassic’s reissues of the previously-out-of-print Legendary Hearts and New Sensations are such a welcome reminder of his continued relevance as an artist.

Listening to it now, Legendary Hearts sounds like something of a minor revelation. Though it often lives in the shadow of its predecessor (1982’s The Blue Mask), the tightness of the backing band and the consistency of the material still mark this as one of Lou’s more solid offerings. Lyrically, the whole album is focused on relationships, a subject Lou tackles in a characteristically un-romantic fashion. Nevertheless, the protagonists of the songs are always sympathetic and believable, from the stressed-out breadwinner of “Don’t Talk Me About Work” (the most new-wavey song Lou ever wrote) to the recovering alcoholics of “The Last Shot” and “Bottoming Out.” Probably the most moving song here is “Home of the Brave,” where an audibly impassioned Lou pays open-hearted tribute to “the life that’s not saved.”

1984’s New Sensations, by contrast, is a strange anomaly for a couple of reasons: not only is it one of the few Lou Reed albums that sounds like a direct product of its time, but it’s also the first Lou Reed album where he sounds like he’s simply cutting loose and having fun. Unfortunately, the spontaneity of the material is undercut by the clean, almost sterile-sounding production, meaning that this never really becomes the good-time rock and roll album it seems to want to be. Still, it’s awfully nice to hear Lou in a cheerful mood, and “Turn to Me” may have some of the funniest lyrics he ever wrote. The almost mindlessly catchy “I Love You, Suzanne” was the shoulda-been hit single, but the open-road anthem of the title track is a highlight as well.

Both reissues benefit from improved sound quality and lavish liner notes, though Lenny Kaye’s rabidly hyperbolic praise of Legendary Hearts borders on alarming. Either way, devoted fans would do well to pick it up.

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