Pictured above: Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley and Lou Reed, jamming at the International Rock Awards in 1990 in NYC.
Editor’s Note: The following is a slightly abridged reprinting of Barry Kerzner’s review–initially published on 10/15/15 and reposted on 3/3/16 for Throwback Thursday. (Or, in this case, Flashback Friday.)
There are works of music that cry out to us. These sonic wonders entice and enthrall us. The best of these will hold us hostage, releasing us only after we have been depleted, wrung dry, and reduced to a shaken, languid shell.
Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal was his effort to bounce back from 1973’s Berlin, poorly received at the time. Interestingly, Berlin would become acknowledged as a masterpiece as the years passed. Rock n Roll Animal is a perfect storm; the perfect musicians, playing the perfect arrangements of amazing songs, at the perfect venue, to the perfect audience, primed to digest it all.
Rock n Roll Animal was recorded on December 21, 1973, at Howard Stein’s Academy of Music, New York. The original release features five tracks, with a running time of just over 40 minutes. The personnel here are Lou Reed – vocals, Pentti “Whitey” Glan – drums and percussion, Prakash John – bass and vocals, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner – guitars, and Ray Colcord on keyboards. This group of musicians is the quintessential example of so-called synchronicity. There is the twin guitar attack of Hunter and Wagner, with Wagner on the right and Hunter on the left as one listens. John’s bass playing, in this context, is a revelation.
Along with the musicians, the other heroes here are the songs themselves, which favor us with some of the most penetrating and poignant lyrics since the Beatles, the Who, and the Stones. “Heroin” more than adequately describes the love/hate tortuous relationship an addict has with the drug, and the anguish, pain, and faux peace they endure through their addiction. Consider “Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life,” and “‘Cause it makes me feel like I’m a man, When I put a spike into my vein.” There’s no sugar coating there; only gut-wrenching, ugly, honest truth. “White Light White Heat” is an intimate look at amphetamine indulgence, and Prakash John’s bass on a juggernaut here, catapulting this onslaught. “Lady Day” features Reed delivering an impassioned, desperate vocal, and the album’s closer, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” is another Reed genius masterstroke, brought to an entirely new pinnacle of assault and assimilation here. Reed’s vocals, as well as the tempo changes, and the enthusiastic guitar excursions, serve to invigorate us, leaving us tingling with excitement.
Rock n Roll Animal is an undisputed masterwork. Here we have a fusion of punk, glam, and rock, with a pinches of blues tinged accents that never fail to leave us wanting. Lou Reed participates in a performance that so absolutely leverages the talent and ability of all the players, there is literally nothing left for them to offer up when it’s over! That is what live recordings are all about. Let this album take you for a ride, but be careful when you stop. Pause for a minute before you attempt to stand, or you may find yourself in a heap. Yes; it’s that good. Enjoy.