Artist: Lou Reed
Reason Featured: #10 Album for Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Paranoia Key of E, Mad, Tatters, Future Farmers of America, Big Sky
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (4/5), Pitchfork (6.5/10)
My Grade: 83%
Ecstasy was Lou Reed’s last solo album. After this, he only released collaborations with other artists (including the often decried Lulu, recorded with Metallica, which I still need to get around to listening to). So I look at his work after Ecstasy in the same way I hear of a former president going around doing speaking engagements: using his clout to do favors for friends. As the last entry into his solo catalogue, this is more than satisfactory. His near-atonal talk-singing is still the best vehicle for accompanying his laidback rocker guitar work and delivering his offhand, wise, witty and stark lyrics. The incorporation of horns, strings and the occasional sax attaches all his elderly punk energy to older traditions of songs about love and heartbreak (jazz, blues and so on).
Reed could really only ever get better with age, considering the subject matter of his songs. He painted himself as streetwise at the beginning of his career and this kind of wisdom only increases as you get older. Is Ecstasy as catchy and irresistible as Transformer? Of course not but what is? As accessibly left-field as Berlin? Still no. As bizarre as Metal Machine Music? Definitely no (except for an eighteen minute dirge about being a possum; I’ll take “Sister Ray” over this one). But you hear hints of all his past incarnations and all the bizarro rock and roll he inspired here in a bluesy, bar side and intimate collection of songs.
Songs like these put me in mind of CBGBs punk (Television, Richard Hell), 80s college rock (Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. in particular) and 90s indie (Reed’s voice and guitar style haunts Malkmus’s). It’s almost like Ecstasy was his chance to look back at all the alternative music of the past half a century, wink and say, “You guys did great but I was here first.”