Forgotten series: Lou Reed – Animal Serenade (2004)

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Before I began paying attention to Lou Reed, these were the only songs of his that made any impression on me. All of Lester Bangs’ rants had no effect. Velvet who? Didn’t matter.

There was as yet no ‘there’ there for my adolescent brain to muckle onto. It took a few years of living (plus a whole pile ‘o Rolling Stone, Creem and other rock propaganda) to figure out that, hey, there’s just something about that weird dude and his even weirder voice.

But then … I turned into a jazz snob. There’s no gettin’ around it. Honkin’, screechin’ and cats-walking-on-piano sounds emanated from my stereo for several years. “When are they gonna stop practicing?” was the joke question. Well, they never really did stop ‘practicing’ in my mind, but some happy musical synchronicity brought Reed back into the picture.

Right around the time of the release of Lou Reed’s New York (and subsequent airplay of “Dirty Blvd.”), I heard the most amazing song on the after-work drive. The ‘singer’ sounded like Louis Armstrong gone insane. There were references to booze, strippers, trench coats and cleavage. Accompanied by just a drum kit, the ‘singer’ belts and scats it out. The tune was Tom Waits’ “Pasties and a G-String” (from Small Change). In a very short timespan, I had developed a jones for oddly constructed male vocals.

As I dug into the coolness of New York, the residue of Lester Bangs’ incessant ReedRamblings(tm) came to mind. I got myself a copy of some live Velvet Underground record and discovered a whole ‘nuther world ‘o screech. Maybe Bangs wasn’t nuts after all. Maybe I can figure out why I find myself enjoying those flat and wobbly vocals. Maybe the Honda Scooter ads made sense after all.

Fast forward to 2004, and Reed’s live album Animal Serenade. Instead of the early-Animal GlamRockOnSteroids sound, Lou’s very talented band (second guitar/guitar synth, bass, drums, cello) delivers the goods in an elegant, almost cerebral fashion. The influence of wife and fellow art-weirdo Laurie Anderson, maybe? In any event, we are treated to some of Reed’s then-current stuff (“The Raven”), recent material (“Set The Twilight Reeling”), older rarities (Berlin’s “Man Of Good Fortune” and “The Bed,” “Small Town” from Songs For Drella), sturdy Reed classics (“Street Hassle”) and the Velvets classic “Venus In Furs,” with scorching cello solo provided by Jane Scarpantoni.

There’s also a song written and sung by bassist Fernando Saunders: “Revien Cherie.” I remember some reviewers spitting bile at this tune. Relax! The juxtaposition of Saunders’ beautiful voice next to Reed’s croak is what makes it work. What? Lou’s not following your rules for his show? Get over it.

This record made for a pretty neat Reed career retrospective and statement of where Reed was at that moment. Some folks couldn’t take the altered arrangements of the material but, hey, that’s their problem. For somebody with such a varied career, I expected nothing less.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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