on 10 December 2000
Something of an oddity, this is largely a lyrically-driven album - some of the tracks feel more like poetry with musical backing than actual songs. Most of the time this works, but in places it gets a bit shakey. That said, there are several tracks of absolute genius that make this album a must-have for all serious VU fans. My favourites are 'a dream', which is a hauntingly beautiful interior monologue read by John Cale (that voice!) to a marvellous ambient backing track, and 'forever changed', which features an awesome, driving piano-riff (reminiscent of 'all tomorrow's parties', but more angular) and some lovely, harsh guitar work from Lou Reed. Other stand-out tracks are 'trouble with classicists', 'slip away' and 'hello it's me'.
Songs for Drella (1990) remains a highlight in both Cale and Reed's lengthy careers- it forms part of Reed's strongest trilogy of albums since the Velvets demise (the others being New York, 1988 & Magic&Loss, 1992) Reed & Cale had infamously fallen out when in The Velvet Underground & had not worked together since- this collaboration, along with Moe Tucker's contribution to New York, would lead to the VU temporarily reforming (the resulting live album containing some wonderful takes on classics like Beginning to See the Light & Femme Fatale). Songs for Drella is one based around a limited musical soundscape (Reed on Vocals/Guitar; Cale on keyboards/vocals/viola) & one that has a sense of improvisation. It was a work primarily written for performance- like Tom Waits recent Alice/Blood Money setz- so perhaps some of the songs are more theatrical than melodic; but I like the whole journey around a fictional take on Warhol's life from people who were once close to him...(the final track on New York leads here...)
The tracks with Cale on lead vocals stand out- Style It Takes (wonderfully performed on Fragments for a Rainy Season),Trouble with Classicists (great guitar from Reed), A Dream & (especially) Forever Changed stand out. Reed also gets to sing some great songs- the amusing Smalltown, the ethos of Work (up there with There is No Time), the spleen-venting I Believe (Valerie Solanis surfacing...) & especially the touching Hello It's Me- which shows that its possible to continue discourse with the dead: "I know it's late in coming but it's the only way I know/Hello it's me- goodnight Andy.../Goodbye Andy"-
Songs for Drella is a more experimental/improvisational work- unlike albums like White Light/White Heat, Berlin, & Paris 1919 which all sounded crafted and meticulously arranged. Songs for Drella isn't as quite out there as Cale's work with Eno&Nico or Reed's recent The Raven (or Metal Machine Music for that matter...)- it looks back not only at Warhol, but a now mythic period of cultural history. It also warrants its recent inclusion in Paul Morley's series of lists that conclude his book 'Words&Music'; one of the highlights of the 1990s...
Strangely enough, with Lou Reed's recent passing, this album he made in 1990 with John Cale, as a tribute to their former collaborator and mentor Andy Warhol (who had died three years earlier), seems an even more poignant listen than ever. Admittedly, it did follow Reed's outstanding 1989 effort New York (arguably his finest post-Transformer/Berlin era recording) and so the man 'had his hand in' (so to speak) in the songwriting stakes, and Songs For Drella carries on where New York left off, as both he and Cale have penned some of their very best material here.
These are clearly very personal songs and this collection sheds a good deal of insight into the relationships of what was (for me) one of the most creative (three-way) collaborations of all contemporary music. Written primarily from a 'Warhol 1st person perspective', Songs For Drella is an enthralling mix of songs covering key aspects of the Warhol persona, including fame, art, cinema, ambition, religion, liberalism, Warhol's assassination attempt and personal relationships - and, as you might expect from these two scribes, the lyrics are unfailingly poetic, witty and perceptive. Musical style-wise, the pair cover much of their own past musical territories, with Reed fulfilling all guitar duties and Cale playing piano and viola - and indeed, although Reed sings lead vocal on 10 of the 15 songs, it is always a nice surprise to hear the lyrical depth of Cale's voice.
There are moments of great vibrant (piano-driven) pop, such as on album opener Smalltown and the account of the assassination attempt in I Believe, whilst each of Work, Starlight, Images (a Reed lyrical tour-de-force) and Forever Changed (with some of Cale's most impassioned vocals) inhabit 'rockier' territory. Thereafter, Trouble With Classicists, Faces And Names, It Wasn't Me (with Reed's guitar and Cale's piano both excelling) and Cale's spoken A Dream (which really touches on the personal, 'Then I saw John Cale, he's been looking really great...', from the perspective of a Warhol dream) all provide great moments. But, it is probably on the album's 'ballads' where (for me, at least) the pair really excel, with Reed appearing to revisit the writing style of his Velvets/early solo period. Open House, Slip Away (A Warning) and Nobody But You (with its Walk On The Wild Side feel) all fit this bill admirably, but if I had to pick a couple of album highpoints these would be Cale's dulcet tones on his fond tribute to Warhol's art in Style It Takes and the sublime album closer, Hello It's Me, as (over Cale's beautiful viola playing) Reed sings with a mix of poignant regret and ambivalence.
on 11 November 2009
This album could have been so bad. Take two ex-band members who continually fall out with one another and get them to pen a song cycle about the life, art and death of their late mentor Andy Warhol. Oh yes, and you are only allowed to use three instruments and none of them can be bass, drums or percussion. Despite the impossible odds though, Lou Reed and John Cale pull off a fascinating tribute which is funny, moving, insightful and brilliant.
"Smalltown" is a hilarious semi-fictional account of Warhol's humble origins played out in Cale's trademark morse-code piano. The superb "Open House" then jumps ahead in time with the bizarre chorus "It's a Czechoslovakian custom my Mother passed on to me, the way to make friends Andy is invite them up for Tea". Cale then takes the vocals and his viola for the beautiful "Style it Takes" about Warhol's shameless use of flattery and manipulation in the pusuit of money and success. "Work" recounts an argument with Warhol in the 60's when he demanded to know how many songs Reed had written that day. Reed, having written none says he has written 10 to which Warhol replies "You won't be young forever! You should have written 15". Of course one slowly realises that this is 25 years later and Reed has finally written his 15 songs for Andy in this album. "Trouble With Classicists" depicts Andy's views on art and painting (yet is still melodic and engrossing) while "Starlight" describes his move into art-house cinema. "Faces and Names" then slows the pace down by delving into his claustrophobic love life.
"Images" tries to capture the frenzied reasoning behind his multiple screen prints and contains the great line "You might find that images are boring...and you might find me personally boring". "Slip Away" is about Warhol's fear of death and worse, his fear of anonymity. The excellent pair "It Wasn't Me" and "I Believe" vividly show his (justifiably) paranoid side. Cale and Reed perfectly depict his regailing against allegations over the premature deaths of his acolytes and his fearful reaction to the assassination attempt he endured when shot by Valerie Solanas in 1968. The slow spiralling towards anonymity in the latter decades of his life is then sketched in the remaining songs. "Nobody but You" brilliantly paints him as both comforted and depressed by the one-night stands and hangers on in his autumn years, delivering the final killer line "...all my life, it's been nobodies like you". "The Dream" then describes, in a wandering spoken reverie, his moment of death after his gall-bladder operation. Two more tracks wrap things up nicely - the superb "Forever Changed" showing Andy in a final positive light, both transformed and full of new resolve, while "Hello it's Me" is a final first-person farewell from Lou and Co.
Overall this album is a magnificent literary and musical achievement, possibly owing it's quality to the long time spent on carefully crafting the songs and performing them live before recording a single note. Even if you know nothing about art or Andy Warhol this fascinating portrait will urge you to find out more about this contradictory and influential character who one day happened to discover an unknown rock band called the Velvet Underground and unwittingly changed the history of rock'n'roll forever.
on 15 November 1999
their styles are so opposite (Reed so confrontational and frank, Cale much gentler and more evasive) that they are perfect foils for one another, creating this nearly perfect whole. It's so wordy, so concept heavy and referrential - yet absolutely without elitism or art-snobbery. You don't have to know anything about Warhol to love this album - though it helps. More than once I have found myself in tears somewhere between "slip away" and "dream"... but "smalltown", "trouble with classicists" and "work" are pure joy, bewilderingly funny. I can't say enough about it.
on 12 November 1999
"Songs For Drella" is one of the best albums released by either Lou Reed or John Cale - considering their history, that's saying something. "Drella" was a nickname for Velvets cohort Andy Warhol - a cross between Cinderella and Dracula! This record is a haunting tribute to the man, made without sentimentality but struck through with a musical and lyrical beauty. Some of the tracks are harsh and direct but it's on the simpler, acoustic tracks, backed by John Cales viola playing, where the real magic shines through. Stunning stuff.
Since Lou Reed`s recent death, I`ve found myself reassessing his music, in a way I seldom do - or need to do? - with an artist. However, a German ex-girlfriend back in 1990 did me a tape of this (along with Lords of the New Church, The Nits, and other off the wall items) and I was immediately captivated.
This tribute to their mentor Andy Warhol - a `wholly fictional` one, as Lou assures us in a brief note, which is mildly confusing - contains some of the best ever songs by these two old sparring partners. The cumulative effect is surprisingly touching, often sobering, sometimes angry (as in Lou`s I Believe) and consistently compelling.
Reed takes the lion`s share of the vocals, with great aplomb, which only means that when Cale`s Swansea lilt makes its rich-voiced presence felt, it`s all the more welcome.
Cale plays keyboards and viola, Reed guitars. The sounds they conjure from such a sparse bag of tricks are wonderfully haunting.
One of the most delightful tracks is a song called Work, which is about just that: the importance of one`s work, and simply carrying it out.
A Dream is a long spoken-word number by Cale, followed by another Cale-sung song Forever Changed, with Reed`s insistent rhythmic guitar backing against Cale`s choppy piano chords.
I`ve never been as enamoured as some people by The Velvets, except for a few of their classic tracks, but, as I say, I feel the loss of Lou more keenly than I would have expected. It`s good to hear again these fifteen superb songs from what must have been a sad and relatively serious set of sessions.
Lou`s final track Hello It`s Me is moving as hell. Starkly honest too, like the whole album.
Essential, and strangely beautiful.
on 1 July 2013
One of Uncle Lou's very best - wry, sardonic, touching, funny.
The album is about Andy Warhol - nickname 'Drella (an amalgam of Cinderella and Dracula). Lou Reed had a long and complicated relationship with Warhol, moving from employee to friend to critic and all shades in between. It reveals Warhol's strong work ethic and almost puritan character in some areas and also his fears and vulnerabilities in the way a straight bio couldn't - with warmth, respect and understanding. It also reveals him to be a tyrant, paranoid and demanding at times. In other words, a human being.
The music created by these two long time frenemies and collaborators is varied and fascinating. Lots of piano from Cale, guitar from Reed. The arrangements are mostly spare and atmospheric, the words are, as you would expect from Reed and Cale, wonderful - 'I fired him on the spot, he got red and called me a rat It was the worst word that he could think of And I've never seen him like that' or 'You scared yourself with music, I scared myself with paint'
Stand-outs for me are 'Work' 'I believe' 'Nobody But You' 'Open House'. But it's a strong album overall and, amazingly for a collaboration, one of their best for each of them.
on 25 August 2013
As members of the Velvet Underground Cale and Reed spent a long time with Andreij Warhola in the Factory.
On this album they give their version of his life from the early days until his death.
Done with love and respect by great musicians.
Great for anyone who will study the text.
on 8 December 2007
Songs for Drella is a concept album written and performed by Lou Reed and John Cale in the wake of the death of their early mentor, cult pop-artist Andy Warhol (Drella was a nickname given to Warhol - an amalgam of Dracula and Cinderella; he wasn't fond of it). Warhol had died suddenly from complications following gall bladder surgery in February 1987; it is said that his death caught Reed off guard. In Warhol's posthumously published diaries, the artist describes his hurt at not being invited to Reed's wedding and his gradual estrangement from the Factory scene. Reed, of course, notoriously fired Warhol in 1967 as manager of The Velvet Underground because, apparently, Warhol was not investing enough time and effort into promoting them. It would seem, then, that the two ex-Velvets have created the fifteen songs here as a kind of catharsis - an opportunity to air grievances, express guilt and mourn his passing.
The tracks are generally low key, taking place in a stripped-down, minimalist atmosphere with Reed on guitar and Cale on keyboards and the viola. Placid lo-fi songs ('Faces and Names', 'Slip Away (A Warning)') are juxtaposed with ones of thundering guitars and disharmonies ('Images', 'Trouble with Classicists'); Reed's boyish, half-spoken vocals are often set against songs sung by Cale in smooth baritone (they do not sing together). Not all songs are easy to digest - 'Work' and 'Images' revel in driving, repetitive riffs, probably intended to sonically evoke Warhol's use of repetition in his most famous silk screens (the Liz and Marilyn prints, Double Elvis). Lyrically, there is fury: of Valerie Solanas, the crazed radical feminist who shot Warhol in June 1968, Reed sings, "I would have pulled the switch on her myself" ('I Believe'). Warhol is defended against accusations of exploiting the female superstars in his Factory, failing to pay them and riding on the waves of their hellraising, wealthy lifestyles ('It Wasn't Me'): "I never said slit your wrists and die," he sings probably in reference to the suicide of the beautiful Andrea Feldmann in 1972; "The problems were there before you met me," is a scarcely-masked allusion to the rich socialite Edie Sedgwick, who also came to an early, self-destructive end in 1971.
There is much poignancy, too. Reed sings sincerely about being deeply hurt by the comments made about him in Warhol's diaries. They are quoted directly in the spoken word song performed by Cale from Warhol's point of view ('A Dream'): "You know I hate Lou / I really do / He won't even hire us for his videos / And I was proud of him". On the album's most moving track, 'Hello It's Me', Reed candidly acknowledges that he has "some resentments that can never be unmade" and that "you hit me where it hurt, I didn't laugh / Your diaries are not a worthy epitaph". Both of these affecting songs help to humanise the album and prevent it from becoming an uncritical hagiography.
Standouts (IMO): Hello It's Me, A Dream, Small Town, Style It Takes, Nobody But You