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The (Angry) Urban Poet,
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This review is from: New York (Audio CD)
This 1989 masterpiece from Brooklyn's finest is (certainly for 1989) something of a blast from the past, representing as it does one of the most virulent 'protest albums' I can recall hearing (though perhaps not surprising, given that it came at the end of two presidential terms of Ronald 'cupcake' Reagan). And, I guess, as they say, protest and disaffection often provoke great levels of creativity - as is evidenced by New York, whose consistent levels of musical and (particularly) lyrical dexterity make this album just possibly my favourite ever solo work by Reed.
New York really represents something of a 'back to basics' approach for Reed as the album's sound reverts to a predominantly small band (and quite sparse) sound, with Rob Wasserman's electric upright bass and album co-producer Fred Maher on drums lending a generally (though not exclusively) light touch. The band's overall sound therefore gives Reed's guitar plenty of room for a number of nicely judged solos and his (and Mike Rathke's) guitar(s) consistently impress. Strangely enough, the album's generally light sound adds a nice touch of dark irony for what is one of Reed's most angry set of songs. There is a pervading theme of despair with the broken state of urban New York, as Reed laments in the face of (perhaps ironically) promiscuous lifestyles (Halloween Parade), lack of concern for the environment (The Last Great American Whale), religion (Busload Of Faith), Vietnam (the sublime Xmas In February) and just about everything else (in the hilariously light Sick Of You and the rocking Hold On).
There is another brilliant example of 'light irony' on (for me) one of the album's highlights, Endless Cycle, with its apparently hopeless plea against family histories of addictions to drugs, drink and violence. Similarly, both Dirty Boulevard (with its reference - one of a number - to the 'statue of bigotry') and the call to action that is There Is No Time ('this is no time for my country right or wrong remember what that brought') are both intoxicatingly vibrant. Good Evening Mr Waldheim, on the other hand, is a brilliantly inventive gem with a compelling rhythm and hook, in which Reed targets all and sundry, from the Austrian president (at the time of New York's recording) and (alleged) Nazi sympathiser, Kurt Waldheim, through to Jessie Jackson, outspoken Islamist Louis Farrakhan and the Pope ('can anyone shake your hand or is it just that you like uniforms and someone kissing your hand'). And, finally, to the album's other real rocker, the superb Strawman, on which Reed's guitar again excels (in feeling rather than technique per se) and his lyrical targets include wasteful affluence (movies, movie stars, $60K limos, space rockets/shuttles, skyscrapers), corrupt politicians, racist preachers and TV evangelists (in particular, Jimmy Swaggart).
Simply a must-have album, and one that, as Reed's sleeve notes suggest, should be listened to in its entirety in order to be able to fully absorb the album's message.