Finally, Reed returns with a release of daring and joy, 21st century blues and the drive and rock and roll. Reed is a rock n roll classic and remains the essential poet of modern music.
is a surprisingly brutal and angry record, even for Lou Reed, who virtually introduced those words into the rock & roll lexicon more than 30 years ago. Like the brilliant New York
and Magic and Loss
is a sprawling song cycle dealing with one particular subject, in this case marriage and the ensuing death of love. Ecstasy
is the sound of relationships unraveling and love going sour. The songs are about infidelity, mistrust, and dishonesty; more importantly, they're about that moment in time when the flush of romance turns rancid. As Reed puts it in "Modern Dance," "It's all downhill after the first kiss." Through a series of varied sketches, Reed poses a question for which he has no answer: At what point does your lover become your tormentor? On the record's best track, "Baton Rouge," Reed asks, "I wonder where love ends and hate starts to blush?" Looking back on the relationship in "Baton Rouge," Reed dreams about what might have been: the two-and-a-half strapping sons, the fat grandsons, the barbecues, and the family dog--all at the expense of self-identity. The taut, muscular guitar work of Reed and Mike Rathke, complemented by the fluid bass playing of longtime collaborator Fernando Saunders, fuel the anger and helplessness of such songs as "Paranoia in the Key of E" and "Prism," in which Reed likens marriage to indentured servitude. On quieter songs, such as "Tatters" and "Turning Time Around," the band completely shifts gears, using strings and sparser arrangements to create beautiful songs about love's bitter aftermath. The centerpiece of Ecstasy
, "Possum Day," is a bleak morass of dissolution and despair played out among the crack whores and sex junkies who have long populated Reed's songs. As Reed and Rathke's guitars churn out an incessant wail, the song's wretched protagonist declares in defiance and disbelief, "Don't know why, baby, I'm still here / I'm the only one left standing / Calm as an angel." Perhaps Reed is also referring to his own staying power and relevance in a world of two-minute pop stars and drug casualties. --Paul Ducey