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4.8 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 27 June 2004
From the cacophony of muted, distorted sound effects and twinkling piano of the opening title-track, right through to the coral backing-harmonies of Sad Song; Lou Reed's Berlin remains a shattering and deeply emotional trawl through the depths of misery, excess and theatrical despair. It's status as a cult-record is legendary; coming as it does on a wave of expectations (the most depressing album ever, the most intense listening experience ever, etc), most of which it lives up to... managing to fuse a sound that combines the heroin-chic of the Velvets and Nico with a further instrumental quality more akin to the thin white Duke (whilst also delivering what must be the most brutal album concept of all time).
Forget the public-school boy navel-gazing of The Wall... this is the real deal. A song-cycle about a couple of doped-up, washed up, drop outs going mad in a Berlin hotel room; cast adrift amidst an ocean of drug-use, mind-games, abuse, assault and sexual jealousy. It's how we would imagine the musical version of Donald Cammel and Nic Roeg's Performance would sound, if the LSD of the sixties had been replaced by the speed and junk of the era-of-Berlin. Reed opens himself up emotionally in a way few artists would dare to do; relating lyrics that point to a damaged and bitter psyche left hurt and destroyed by excess and paranoia, whilst leaving his lyrics to some extent, open to interpretation... though at the same time, they're as clear as crystal (if you get what I mean??).
It is this kind of emotional back-and-forth and juxtaposition of light and dark aspects that makes Berlin what it is... with the first half of the record featuring Lou's painfully bitter lyrics backed by an almost up-tempo musical bed - showing Reed's willingness for Berlin to find a commercial audience (after all this did follow Lou's all-time commercial peak, Transformer) - whilst the second half of the record features a more stripped-down approach to instrumentation. This is obviously going to be a problem for those unprepared for Reed's magisterial misery, with standout moments like children screaming 'mummy' and lines like 'this is the place where she cut her wrists, that odd and fateful night' having already been covered by previous reviewers... though for me that standout moment is Reed's closing refrain of Sad Song in which he opines "I'm gonn'a stop wasting my time... somebody else would have broken both of her arms".
As evident, this is darker than anything by the likes of the Red House Painters, Lenny Cohen, Jeff Buckley, the Cure, Roger Waters, or Ryan Adam's Heartbreaker LP... with Lou creating a movie of emotions for our ears (less blockbuster, more video nasty!), whilst subsequently taking us on a decent into suicide and hell. However, if we step away from all the pain, we find that this is, regardless of the downbeat atmosphere, still one of the all-time great records. Deft instrumentation from a largely British collective featuring Jack Bruce, Tony Levin and Steve Winwood add a depth and panache to Lou's compositions, whilst the production is overseen by prog-rock supreme-o Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, et al)... because of this, the record has a grand, cascading style all of it's own, reflecting both the sordid background of the artist and his creative flare as a musician. So in a word: excellent.
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on 11 July 2002
I have read so many times that 'Berlin' is a depressing album and admittedly at times it is very dark. However, the darkness is largely conveyed lyrically with much of the music quite euphoric in sound. These elements blend to produce one of the most beautiful and interesting albums of all time. In my opinion the closing duo of 'The Bed' and 'Sad Song' are absolute perfection. If you don't own this album then I strongly suggest purchasing it and giving it a few listens. It is a bit of a slow burner but well worth being patient with! Enjoy!
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These songs are harrowing but beautiful and ultimately rewarding if you can survive the album's labyrinthine descent into misery 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 Sad Song which is soulful in its melancholia.

Over these beautiful melodies Reed lays his vocals that are so authentic, apt and gripping that listening to them is like seeing snippets of a movie. Of course, they form a complete picture to create one of the most cohesive and searing concept albums in rock.

From the jazzy intro of Berlin with its lounge piano & brief strains of Happy Birthday through Lady Day with its spoken & sung segments, right to the melancholy last refrains of Sad Song, the album holds one's ears & attention. Berlin is unique in Reed's body of work although tracks like Oh Jim & How Do You Think It Feels would have fitted well on Transformer.

The sensitive production & sympathetic arrangements add gravitas to the somber mood to create a dark masterpiece of epic proportions. It's not really a rock album & therefore somewhat inaccessible to some fans. Berlin has in my opinion improved with time and remains one of Lou Reed's most singular achievements.
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Few albums polarise people (and fans) more than the terminally bleak yet brutally truthful "Berlin". It took me years to like it - and even now in 2016 - there are parts of Side 1 I can't bear to listen to. But when I play "The Kids", "The Bed" and especially "Sad Song" from Side 2 all in a row - I also think it may be one of 'the' great unsung-masterpieces of the Seventies.

Some thought at the time that "Berlin" was uniformly cold and distant as all around Lou Reed seemed to be descending into a self-afflicted drug-addiction Hell. The infamous Rolling Stone review called it 'offensive' and wished it didn't exist somehow - while another more positive reappraisal likened its more grandiose moments to the inventiveness of "Sgt. Peppers". It also seemed like the Louster was trying to tear down the Glam Rock image and popularity of his huge "Transformer" album from 1972 with the monster "Walk On The Wild Side" hit single thrilling everybody (including David Bowie fans).

But "Berlin" was very different. Not a concept LP – not quirky happy-wappy crossover Pop either - just uber-realistic – aimless lives ending in casually bleak ways. It was probably just too much and too realistic for its 1973 audience - what with Cocaine and Heroin destroying everything around them and rendering certain areas of many US cities no-go zones (the same applied to cities in Europe too). "Berlin" only reached No. 98 in the US Pop & Rock LP charts - but faired much better in Blighty managing an impressive No. 7. Either way - I'd argue that the album's best moments are 'beautifully sad' and truly amazing. Lou Reed's "Berlin" sounds like no other record of the period. Which brings us to this exceptionally well remastered CD of it...

UK released March 1998 (reissued in May 2003) – "Berlin" by LOU REED on RCA 07863 67489 2 (Barcode 078636748924) is a straightforward Remaster of the 10-track 1973 LP and plays out as follows (49:34 minutes):

1. Berlin
2. Lady Day
3. Men Of Good Fortune
4. Caroline Says I
5. How Do You Think It Feels
6. Oh Jim [Side 2]
7. Caroline Says II
8. The Kids
9. The Bed
10. Sad Song
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 3rd Solo album "Berlin" – released October 1973 in the USA on RCA Records APL1-0207 and in the UK on RCA Victor RS 1002. Produced by BOB EZRIN – it peaked at No. 98 in the US LP charts and No. 7 in the UK.

The CD Reissue supervised by PAUL WILLIAMS - the famously elaborate 'booklet' that accompanied original vinyl copies has been reproduced in the elaborate 12-leaf foldout inlay. You get those heavy-hitting lyrics, album and reissue credits and a critique of the record and its cultural impact by MICHAEL HILL. In his overview he claims (and rightly to) that the album reveals the 'real' Lou Reed - an invested yet aloof outsider commenting on a lifestyle and people he knew all too well. But the big news is the Audio Restoration done by BILL LACEY and MIKE HARTRY that is gorgeous. You can really hear Jack Bruce's Bass contributions on "Caroline Says I" and Steve Hunter's guitar on "How Do You Think It Feels" as well as Michael and Randy Brecker on the Horns.

As if a precursor to the doom-to-come - "Berlin" opens with a grotesque 'Happy Birthday To You' racket from some drunken bar that slowly segues into a lone piano and Lou whispering in echoed vocals about a five-foot ten-inches-tall lady in Berlin. He sings of 'paradise' but it feels like he's channelling the saddest Tom Waits observation. RCA USA tried "Lady Day" as the B-side to "How Do You Think It Feels" on 45 in October 1973 (RCA 0172) - bit no one noticed either side. Steve Winwood (of Traffic and Blind Faith) guests to on Organ and Harmonium to great effect ably helped by Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson on Drums. But that caustic number is as nothing to the poisonous "Men Of Good Fortune" - a song that plays of 'men of good fortune' against 'men of poor beginnings' with neither coming off particularly well. The first of the "Caroline Says" songs hits you next where she 'can't help but be mean' and wants our Lou to be more ‘manly’. The Side ends on "How Do You Think It Feels" - a straightforward question about the effects of speed pills. But my fave is the threesome of songs that end the record - "The Kids", "The Bed" and the amazing "Sad Song".

A junkie-mum is having her children taken away from her in "The Kids" where Lou probably did his 'best guy in the world' ratings no favours with lines like "...in the alleys and bars she couldn't be beat...the miserable rotten slut couldn't turn anyone away..." If that sounds cold and brutal – it is – but the soft acoustic strumming that accompanies the seven and half minutes of the song make it feel crushingly sad and real and truthful and somehow not nearly as mean and detached as it sounds. The same softly approach comes with "The Bed" – a song about a woman who took her life in the bed where the singer’s children were conceived (nice). It ends on the truly beautiful and fully orchestrated "Sad Song" - a full on seven-minute masterpiece that amazes me even now.

I suppose only a curmudgeon like Lou Reed could have made "Berlin" - poised to take the world by its 'wild side' - but instead he depresses the crap out of all and sundry. Will we ever see the like of his opinionated genius ever again...
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What is often overlooked in judging this bleak but great concept album, is the brilliance of the individual songs. It contains some of Reed's most memorable numbers like the melodic Caroline Says I and II, the tender, wistful Oh, Jim, the heartbreaking The Kids, the desolate The Bed and the majestic Sad Song. Over these beautiful melodies Reed lays his vocals that are so genuine, so apt and so gripping that listening to them is almost like seeing snippets of a movie. Of course, these all fit the complete picture to create one of the most trenchant and vivid concept albums of all time, from the jazzy intro of Berlin through the spoken poem of Lady Day, right to the melancholy last refrains of Sad Song. The full production and lush 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 stands as one of Lou Reed's major achievements.
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on 9 April 2016
Back in 1973 Lou Reed followed up the success of the glammy Transformer and ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ with this heavily–orchestrated, morally ambiguous concept album. His proud, if rather misguided, record company RCA decided for some reason to christen this bleak offering as ‘The Sgt. Pepper of The Seventies’. Though it didn’t do badly here - it reached No. 7 in the album charts - some critics hated it, with Rolling Stone’s Stephen Davis hating it most of all. In a review for their December 20, 1973 edition he wrote 86 sneering words:

“Lou Reed's Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide. There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them. Reed's only excuse for this kind of performance (which isn't really performed as much as spoken and shouted over Bob Ezrin's limp production) can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye, Lou".

Though Davis’s review has become notorious, I don’t think his description is completely wrong. Engulfed at times by waves of fear, Berlin is “a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide”. However, I feel for that reason it was actually the high point in his long, if chequered, solo career. Key moments in this occasionally proggy, sometimes senselessly cruel, song cycle are the scene-setting title track, the autobiographical ‘Oh Jim’, the much covered acoustic ballad ‘Caroline Says II’, and the harrowing ‘The Kids’.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 October 2012
Looking back, it really is mystifying to me as to why the critics panned this 1973 album. I suspect that, following the relatively conventional rock/pop approach Reed adopted for Transformer, they just couldn't appreciate (or understand) such a grandiose orchestral concept as Berlin, even though its principal subject matter remained the hitherto Reed obsessions of drugs, doomed relationships, depression and death. It is, though, interesting to note that Berlin was much more successful in the UK than the US, just reinforcing my no doubt bigoted view that we Brits have more discerning musical tastes! Having said this, this view appears to be contradicted by the fact that Bob Ezrin (who Reed employed in a masterstroke to produce Berlin) had achieved equivalent success (using a similar production approach) with his star performer Alice Cooper across the pond.

One cannot, of course, detract from Reed's overall concept and songs that made up Berlin (even though a number were actually reworked versions of earlier Velvet Underground songs), but, in my mind, Ezrin's touch also pervades the album, from its sense of dynamics to its (at times) lush orchestral sound. Nowhere is this felt more obviously than on songs such as the vibrant Caroline Says I, the ironically lush sounding Oh, Jim (with its superb acoustic conclusion - a version of the Velvet's Oh Gin) and the sombre melodic brilliance and subtle instrumentation featured on The Bed. Production aside, Reed had also assembled a veritable British supergroup for the album, including the powerhouse rhythm section of Jack Bruce on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums (who are notably outstanding on - my favourite album track - Men Of Good Fortune, Caroline Says I and How Do You Think It Feels), together with Steve Winwood on keyboards. Reed also employed guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner for the album, who went on to excel on his later (more conventional, but still brilliant) live album Rock 'n' Roll Animal.

Berlin is, though, perhaps best known for the (much covered) superb acoustic ballad Caroline Says II, a devastatingly powerful song in which the heroine (no pun intended) of his 'opera' laments on her tragic lot of drug addiction and physical abuse. This is a song which, for me, stylistically follows his Transformer masterpieces Walk On The Wild Side, Satellite Of Love and Perfect Day, as well as the Velvet's Femme Fatale and Sunday Morning. Surprisingly, perhaps, the album actually ends on a relatively positive note (musically, at least) with the superbly lyrical Sad Song, which is another mega-production number from Mr Ezrin. The only point where Berlin overdoes the theatrics for me is the infamous children crying interlude on the otherwise suitably sombre and poignant The Kids.

As an overall concept, Berlin is a bravely uncompromising depiction of a key social problem and contains much brilliantly vibrant music to boot.
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on 13 December 2011
A stunning achievement, which was obviously way-ahead of what popular taste could handle in 1973, post Walk on the Wild side. An album that stretches the parameters/envelope of what pop/rock music can do and one that still sends shivers down the spine today. His best? I think so (it's my favourite), but it's interesting that it's only now that this album is getting the respect it deserves. How long will we have to wait for another LR classic 'Songs for Drella' to get the same?
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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.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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