on December 16, 2005
Lou Reed's "Berlin" is perhaps the darkest album ever made. That said, it is a masterpiece. The subject matter is unremittingly bleak but the lyrics are startling in both their empathy and detachment. In "The Kids" Reed sings, "They're Taking Her Children Away", and it is about just that, chronicalling the disintegrating life of a single mother, "Caroline Says Pt 1" tells the tale of an uberbitch and the man who licks her boots, while "Caroline Says Pt 2" (same Caroline?) offers the contrast of a beaten and abused speed freak at the end of her rope. The utter apotheosis of despair is realized with "The Bed", in which a man takes us on a mordantly matter-of-fact tour of the apartment in which his wife, and the mother of his children lived, loved and killed herself. It is absolutely unapproachable as a hymn of resigned desolation. "This is the room where she took the razor...and I said, Oh, what a feeling." The orchestration of "Berlin" is likewise stunning, ranging from full-on horns and strings ("Caroline Pt 1") to bare acoustic minimalism ("The Bed"). All in all there is nothing in music I can compare Lou Reed's "Berlin" to. It is perfect in its despair, but not for the clinically depressed.
on November 29, 2001
I bought BERLIN after reading Victor Bockris's brutal biography of Reed, TRANSFORMER. It was hailed as a "masterpiece" throughout the book, and having been a big fan of Reed and VU for years, AND since it had just been re-issued on CD, I snatched it up. I had no idea what a surprise I was in for. Having heard many of the VU versions of these songs, and based on my other Reed discs, I was completely stunned by the theatrical-German-tavern orchestration, and the blatant violence (particularly misogyny) in the lyrics. None of this turned me off of the album, as I was determined to see it as a testament of a certain state of mind, which was discussed at length in TRANSFORMER. And according to the book the recording of this album was a catastrophe, what with Reed's increasing dependence on speed, and his emotional state. Knowing this, it is amazing that the album turned out as well as it did. But like so many other "masterpieces" it wasn't hailed as such until much, much later, when it could be listened to within its own context, and not just as the follow-up to the album TRANSFORMER. This leads me to my calling it an "accidental masterpiece," as obviously Reed's vocals aren't up to par, there's nary a Reed-guitar crunch in sight, and much of the orchestration is close to being absurdly overwrought. However, my reason for giving it five stars is that it IS a perfect testament to Reed's state of mind/being at that particular time, flaws and all. Not many albums achieve this. One last thing, I wish people would stop with the: "I like the VU version of this-or-that song better." I happen to like Reed's later takes on those songs, and in this case think that the BERLIN version of "Sad Song" is much more powerful than the original.
on January 6, 2000
It's sometimes hard for me to think about "Berlin" without conjuring up Mike Myers' Saturday Night Live character, Dieter (the host of "Sprockets"). Like Dieter ("I find your agony delicious"), Reed seeks -- and finds, in abundance -- the beauty in pain and despair on this unforgettable album.
"Berlin" is all about darkness and decadence, though not the kind Lou Reed explored on "Transformer", his previous release. Rather than continuing with that disc's celebration of camp fruitery, "Berlin" takes a major turn onto seriously grim sidestreets littered with broken souls. A conceptual meditation on feelings most of us would rather not acknowledge, "Berlin" is a bitter narrative about the cruelty people can inflict on each other in the supposedly safe confines of a relationship.
The most amazing thing about "Berlin", however, isn't the subject matter, it's the music. Producer Bob Ezrin assembled an array of the era's most talented musicians (including Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar and Tony Levin) and embroidered the album with lush, breathtaking string and wind orchestrations. The music and lyrics offset each other in stark contrast, much the same way a German expressionist film utilizes black and white.
Throughout, Reed delivers his trademark off-key vocals with a more pronounced sense of detachment than is usual even for him; on "Berlin" he's not so much an impartial observer, but a willing accomplice to the proceedings who angrily refuses to do anything about the destiny unfolding before him.
"Berlin" has been blasted as the ultimate downer of Reed's career -- quite an accomplishment, given the breadth of his depressive catalogue. Which is fair enough, for the faint of heart. For the rest of us, "Berlin" is a groundbreaking masterpiece.
These songs are harrowing but beautiful and ultimately rewarding if you can survive its labyrinthine descent into heartbreak and despair. The most melodic songs include Caroline Says I and II, the wistful Oh Jim, the painful The Kids, the bleak The Bed and the soulful Sad Song.
Over these beautiful melodies Reed lays his vocals that are so genuine, so apt and so gripping that listening to them is like being privy to the private details of a doomed relationship. Of course, these all fit the complete picture to create one of the most cohesive and searng concept albums in rock, from the jazzy intro of Berlin with its lounge piano through the spoken poem of Lady Day, right to the melancholy last refrains of Sad Song.
The grand production and sympathetic arrangements add gravitas to the somber mood to create a dark masterpiece of epic proportions. Somewhat inaccessible to some fans, Berlin has nevertheless improved with time and remains one of Lou Reed's greatest albums.
on October 17, 2007
I've spent the last five years of my life hearing from others that this album is a depressing, disturbing masterpiece. I finally bought it, and this is truly Lou Reed's finest hour. As is often pointed out about this album, the lyrics are brilliant. Reed tells stories with an eye for dirt and mire that few others come close to possessing. It's a thrilling read as well as a great listen.
As a consequence, though, the music behind the words is usually overlooked. I've never read a review of Berlin that made a point of how truly remarkable the music is. Some of these songs are absolutely astounding in their musical crafting. The chord progressions still sound fresh, the guitar parts are simple but perfect, and the melodies are the work of a master craftsman. Truly a brilliant album, in every sense.
Lou Reed's "Berlin" is perhaps the drakest album of a career full of less than happy music. It is a song cycle about a drug addicted couple (Jim and Caroline) and their slow chemical destruction. It is also one of Reed's most theatrical pieces of rock music, and whether you like it or not will largely depend on whether you like the style in which it was recorded.
The album starts slowly, and really doesn't get rolling until the fourth song, "Caroline Says," an excellent rocking number. The next cut, "How Do You Think it Feels?" is one of the best songs of Reed's career. From there, the story REALLY gets ugly, and the most harrowing moment is and the end of the song "The Kids," in which Reed sings the line, "They're taking my children away," while the sounds of kids crying and screaming "Mommy!" fill the background. By the time you get to mournful but beautiful "Sad Song" at the end, you are exhausted.
Overall, "Berlin" is one of Reed's best solo albums, but you don't want to put in on if you're feeling suicidal.
on August 15, 2004
I am a Lou Reed fan. Generally, I've always preferred his live performances, CD and DVD. However, without question, this album is a masterpiece.
Make no mistake, this is a top ten album of all time.
The emotional content of this album is unparalleled. The orchestration, the music, and the lyrics are virtually unrivaled.
I read another review which made reference to Pink Floyd's, " The Wall." I love that album; I love Pink Floyd; painful to say, " The Wall" pales in comparison to this album. I have to be honest; " Berlin" is an incredible piece of work.
Lou Reed bares it all; " Berlin" is unadulterated. It's deceptively simple; it's raw and easily accesssible. Maybe, " simple" is not correct. " Berlin" is just void of any pretense and bullcrap.
It/life just is: pain and suffering intermixed with beauty.
I've said enough.
I absolutely applaud this piece of work.
on October 31, 2013
In the early 1970s, rock critics who had spent most of the previous decade overrating everything that the genre's major stars released (let's be honest, folks: "Blonde on Blonde", "Pet Sounds" and "Sergeant Pepper" are indeed great albums, but are they really THAT great?) suddenly did an about-face and took to savaging wholesale the often-brilliant offerings of popular music's next generation. Artists like Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Black Sabbath and David Bowie were all too frequently dismissed and/or excoriated by a critical class whose venom seemed to grow all the more sour as those same acts' album sales soared. Even Dylan came in for some of it with 1970's "Self Portrait", which is now being "reexamined" by rock journalists in light of the recent "Bootleg Series" update of what was, in retrospect, one songwriter's flawed-but-worthy tribute to his contemporaries.
That said, Lou Reed's 1973 LP "Berlin" received such a critical lashing upon its release as to be almost laughable, since any thinking person - then or now - who gives this album even a single spin can immediately appreciate its brilliance. Recycling a handful of unreleased Velvet Underground tracks, along with the title tune from his ignored 1972 debut solo album and a few fresh compositions, Reed here crafted what to my ears, at least, is his single greatest recording ("Rock & Roll Animal", of course, being all about the astounding touring band Reed would put together a couple of months hence rather than the Maestro himself). It is dark, it is dismal and it is unrelenting in its brutal message about the human condition - beautifully encapsulated here in the tale of two lovers in (presumably) prewar Berlin, though it might just as easily be the Berlin - or New York, Tokyo or any other city - of 1973. All of Reed's signature themes - drugs, kinky sex, despair, infidelity, suicide and above all the almost obscene hope that arises in the face of these things - are here given their ultimate treatment, and Bob Ezrin's grandiose production, far from weakening their message, serves only to underscore it in the most effective manner. If "Transformer" offered listeners the light, free and easy side of Reed's demimonde stomping grounds, "Berlin" may be seen as that album's older, wiser and far stronger sibling, a walk on a wild side from which there is no coming back except in a box. That the artist achieves his desired effect so perfectly makes "Berlin", note for note, one of the most worthwhile albums ever recorded. No, you can't dance to it, and you certainly wouldn't want to throw it on to get your date - or yourself, for that matter - "in the mood"; but if there is a more powerful argument anywhere out there for rock music as a valid and serious art form, I've certainly never heard it.
So long, Lou. To borrow - and warp - a line from Duke Ellington, we miss you madly.
on August 23, 2005
My mom gave me this CD to listen to during a car ride to Buffalo. I listened to it straight thru 3 times and didn't say a word. When we got to where we were going I thanked my mom for letting me listen to it. I wish I was old enough to listen to this music when it first came out. Thank you.
on April 1, 1999
Yet another example of the masses rejecting anything that doesn't sugarcoat things. This album is not cold, it's objective. Lou Reed presents the story, he doesn't judge it. The crushing lines in caroline says 2 "Caroline says as she gets up from the floor,You can hit me all you want to, but I dont love you anymore" illustrates the characters of this play perfectly,detached and hopeless. Many don't like believing these people exist. But reed has never been afraid to confront his listeners with such true depictions of the human condition. This album is also more approprietly produced than the critically acclaimed "transformer". "BERLIN" Belong behind only "blood on the tracks" as the best album of the 70's.