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Lou Reed - Berlin: Live at St Ann’s Warehouse

Released on Matador Records, 10/28/08

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When Lou Reed first released his Berlin album in 1973, Rolling Stone referred to it as a “distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide”. Some 30 years later, the magazine named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The recent audio release of Reed’s 2006 performances of Berlin, was recorded over four days at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn -- the first time that Reed had ever performed the album live.

If you’re not a seasoned Lou Reed fan and you don’t know the album’s tumultuous history, Berlin may initially take you by surprise given that in a word (or three), it is dark, dark, dark. The album has been said to tell the tale of a dysfunctional, self-destructive couple who are addicted to sex, drugs and rock n’roll. So depressing is Berlin, that the stories told in each song follow themes of domestic violence, drug abuse, neglected children, suicide and death.

The mood of the album is somewhat exacerbated by Reed’s voice – in fact, his cheese-grater-for-vocal-chords mixed with melodic gospel backups and Steve Hunter’s killer guitar licks (Men of Good Fortune) amplify the devastation and destruction of Berlin’s story, which was later captured as a ‘rock-musical’ by Julian Schnabel and recently released on DVD.

Storytelling is the key to Reed’s Berlin repertoire. In listening to Berlin, you pay attention to every word. The Bed for example, is a tragic tale of suicide that draws you in like a good novel that you can’t put down. You feel as tortured as the artist himself appears. Whilst the mood of the album is unapologetically dire, the tempo picks up in Sweet Jane, which (to some relief) adds a little sugar to an otherwise bittersweet experience.

Whilst once deemed a commercial flop by critics, Berlin continues to push boundaries and tolerance levels, and is now touted as the winning arrow in Reed’s difficult career bow.