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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
65
Berlin
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on 26 October 2014
Good cd
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on 7 November 2015
Class
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on 8 October 2000
This album was derided by many when it first came out in the early 70s. However, it's now highly regarded as one of Reed's masterpieces. A great story-album of a family 'gone bad'.
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on 19 November 2013
I have loved this album since it first came out and used to own it on vynyl. I'm absolutely over the moon to be able to listen to it again but having said that am the first one to admit that it does not have mass appeal - a friend described it as the"most depressing album ever made". The songs deal with drug addiction, infidelity, domestic violence, children being taken away "because they said she was not a good mother" and suicide. I read recently that Lou Reed intended it to tell a story about a couple who descend into intravenous drug addiction and end up destroying everything until the woman commits suicide after losing the kids; that take seems to make a lot of sense, however I think the songs stand alone as well. "Caroline Says" parts 1 and 2 show two very different sides of the same woman and depending on your take, that woman in the same relationship. "Men of Good Fortune" is a pretty classic Lou Reed track "The rich son waits for his father to die, the poor just drink and cry - and me? I just don't care at all".
Yes many would find this album dark and depressing but many others will find it artistic, poetic and beautiful. It was considered shocking at the time that "The Kids" ended with children crying and calling repeatedly for "Mummy". This album does not glamourize the lifestyle it depicts. As well as the poetic lyrics and fabulous vocals there is piano and guitar to die for. However you can't really dance to it!
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on 1 July 2007
Lou Reed is a controversial one, his work following glam rock crossover Transformer (1972) being celebrated by some and relegated by others. 1989's New York seemed to be enjoyed by the critics, but ol' Lou seems to divide critics and listeners alike, some declaring albums like The Blue Mask, The Bells, Magic and Loss, Set the Twilight Reeling, Ecstasy, Coney Island Baby and (even!) Sally Can't Dance to be great works, as others object wildly. I guess pretty much everyone is in agreeememnt on The Raven though? Berlin, and its later reaction, Metal Machine Music, are something else though - so, here we are, in Berlin again - odd that people have raved over Reed's tour of Berlin directed by Julian Schnabel, while completely ignoring his recent Enoesque ambient LP!

The story of Berlin can be found in Reed's relationship with Nico, critics like Lester Bangs (who had many an encounter with Reed - see Psychotic Reactions & Carburettor Dung - as well as one chapter in Nick Kent's recently reissued The Dark Stuff) seemed to think this was just cruel. Reed's recent divorce may have been a catalyst, or perhaps he had viewed Transformer as a more commercial refinement of aspects of the Velvets - and now back to something more artistic. Maybe Lou considered some works "entertainments" and others more serious, like Graham Greene? Berlin falls into the latter group, like Gene Clark's No Other, it appears to have been intended to be a double LP that the record company nixed. Reed with producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd) assembled a vast cast of supporting musicians including Steve Winwood, Blue Weaver & Jack Bruce and set about turning Reed's aural novel or musical film of the life of Caroline and Jim. I have the old CD reissue, and it sounds terrible compared to this - there are no extra tracks, just a remastered CD in a shiny paper sleeve with nice photos and lyrics in the booklet. So...well worth getting if you already have it...and I can't say I've listened to it since something like 1997/1998 when I cut out certain unhealthy albums like The Holy Bible and Dog Man Star...but boy, Berlin stands up. It probably is grumpy old Lou's masterpiece and one to file neatly alongside John Cale's Paris 1919 and Nico's Desertshore.

& these days, when people like to download the tracks they immediatly like to their MP3 player of choice, it's nice to be reminded that this is a very complete album. More complex and gruesome songs like Oh Jim, The Bed and The Kids probably didn't appeal on initial listening - though are probably my favourite now. I came to this LP with knowledge of a few tracks on the Retro compilation of the late 80s and Marc & the Mambas's cover of Caroline Says II (aka Caroline Says It- according to my ancient tape of it!). It should be noted that bits of Berlin did come out before - the title track was performed in Paris with Cale and Nico and featured on Lou's eponymous debut LP, while a trawl through bonus track/compilationville regarding the Velvets finds earlier versions of the songs that became Caroline Says II (Stephanie Says), Oh Jim (Oh Gin)and Sad Song. & How Do You Think It Feels takes its title from the closing refrain of Beginning To See the Light. So, the idea that all these songs came at the same time as one complete piece is a bit of a white lie - Reed and Ezrin did fashion all 10 songs into one cohesive whole though...

Since Berlin is a complete work, it seems churlish to offer a track-by-track analysis - this is one of those records, like Baader Meinhof or Jehovahkill or Los Angeles or Alice or The First Born is Dead or [insert suggestion here], that works as a definite whole and should be listened to in one 50-odd minute session. I do have favourites though, Caroline Says II will always be a joy with those lines, "she's not afraid to die/All of her friends call her Alaska/When she takes speed/They laugh and ask her, "What is in her mind?" - a complete joy. There is a Cale comment on Lou's difficult teenage years, ECT (alluded to in Kill Your Sons) and putting his fist through a window pane - a lyric that recurs in Caroline Says II, so Berlin is partly about Lou as it is Nico, or Caroline and Jim...

I always felt that Caroline Says I is a pretty good idea of this album, if you want one track that gets the slightly bombastic, highly literate and mildly proggy album - it's all here, though it's a bit joyful, which probably doesn't capture the feel of the title track or wrist slitters like The Bed and The Kids. Oh well...I think the latter half of the LP is probably its strongest part, Oh Jim starts off with an odd rhythm that predicts a record like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts before demented jazz comes in, and finally a gorgeous stripped lone guitar and vocal. Perhaps that's the song with everything in? The Kids is the one that will scare many, I once played it to a female I knew and she said it reminded her of the Blair Witch Project (which had just come out) - the rumour is that Ezrin or Reed locked Ezrin's kids in a cupboard, told them that their mother wasn't coming home and recorded the crying and screaming. This is funny and cruel and, if true, I hope they get a royalty payment for performance. The real low has to be The Bed, a cold take on a suicide - the Perfect Day-expansion of Sad Song is one that is very welcome thereafter...

Berlin stiffed, or at least threw Lou off kilter after the relative pop success of Transformer. The rest of the 70s would be quite confused, from sarcastic dumb pop in Transformer mode (Sally Can't Dance - though Kill Your Sons is brilliant), the FU that was Metal Machine Music, the neglected The Bells and albums that were decidely hit and miss - Coney Island Baby, Street Hassle, Rock and Roll Animal. It's nice that Mr Reed is revisiting it, I do hope that a DVD/CD set comes out with that show on, particularly as it didn't venture much into the UK and the closest I got was an episode of BBC2's The Culture Show. A fine reissue of an album that should now be declared a masterpiece, and with that lovely bit of trivia that Reed hadn't been to (West)Berlin at the time. Berlin, of course, a state of mind - Bowie and Iggy and everyone else would follow in the years after...
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on 21 February 2014
I have heard a great deal about this album over the years so I decided to pick up a copy.

The first few listens didn't really sink in and even now the album has not yet fully resided within my conscious thoughts. I have to "be in the mood" to pull it out and play and that mood does not come along too often.

Casual Reed fans may not be so keen but those wanting to dig a little deeper into his catalogue may very well want to hear this album.
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on 26 March 2015
This is one of the greatest albums ever made and every home should have one even if its subject matter of death, drugs and betrayal doesn't make for easy listening.
Berlin was recorded again largely in the UK with a cast of British music heavyweights of the time (Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Steve Winwood) alongside the superb Amercian guitar partnership of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. Bowie and Mick Ronson had moved on and Alice Coopers producer Bob Ezrin was now to be found at the controls. The result is a brooding intense often unsettling album which from the off,rewards careful listening with its claustrophobic production and Reeds superb understated vocal delivery and dark lyrics. Not one for playing in the back ground at dinner parties. Transformer 2 this is not! Other reviewers go into detail about the songs so I will not deal with those here except to say personal favourites include "Oh Jim", "Sad Song" and the upsetting "Kids".
Lou Reed never again reached the creative heights achieved on this and its predecessor, the more accessible "Transformer", eventually fading away to become yet another legend whose muse rapidly seemed to depart. So its a shame that this album hasn't been properly remastered (though on the cover it says it has...but probably back in the 1990s) I am amazed that it hasn't been when so many other inferior albums get the full 21st century sonic upgrade. The cover graphics are also very low res and poorly printed and in need of a makeover. Whoever has the rights to this album (RCA?)....get your act together and produce a CD that reflects the quality of the songs and performances on this album. But don't wait...buy this album until that remaster comes about and listen to a genuine masterpiece of songwriting. It might not be easy listening but boy, it's worth sticking with it. Especially as in its desolate themes "Berlin" feels more like the soundtrack of this decade than a product of the early 1970s.
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VINE VOICEHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 22 June 2016
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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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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on 30 November 2017
The only "Junky opera" ever written? Arguably Lou's magister opus and maybe one of the greatest pieces of writing of the second half of the 20th Century ... everything here all is so bleak concise to-the-point all the fat has been trimmed off and the sadness is beautiful and unredeemable .... Absolute Must-Hear
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