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A pale, dope-sick Lou Reed stares balefully at you from the album cover, behind dark glasses. Letting you know this isn't going to be another David Bowie-produced record in the vein of Transformer. It's gonna be a darker trip this time, through the wreckage of the Andy Warhol scene, through overdoses and electroshock treatments and simply being unable "to get up off the floor".
The year is 1974. Lou Reed creates the first of many half-assed later-career records. Already the lyrics and chord progressions seem strangely familiar--Ride Sally Ride is Satellite of Love, Baby Face is either Lady Day or Oh Jim, and Kill Your Sons is the blueprint for pretty much every half-decent Lou Reed song to follow (Waves of Fear, Romeo Had Juliette).....
The arrangements are big, trashy pop-glam. Full of obnoxious horn sections and vocal choruses that serve to obscure the tight rhythm section (usually Prakash John and Whitey Glan, formerly of Lou's Rock N Roll Animal, latterly of Alice Cooper's band). There's some tasty guitar leads in there as well, but the overall effect is reminiscent of what happens when, say, Bob Dylan loses creative control of the proceedings. The record even ends with Billy, an acoustic guitar-and-saxophone ballad. Lou called it his Elton John record, and had a few other bad things to say about it.
"This is fantastic--the worse I am, the more it sells. If I wasn't on the record at all next time around, it would probably go to number one."
Sally Can't Dance peaked at #9 on the US album charts. Kind of a hard thing to take, considering The Velvet Underground and Nico stiffed, Berlin stiffed, and the guys at MGM didn't really feel like marketing Sweet Jane, which might have been his greatest single of all time....
And yet, what we have here is a damned fine Lou Reed record. The title track is a biting portrayal of....Nico? Edie Sedgwick? She used to ball folk singers, she took too much meth and can't get off of the floor, she was the first girl in the neighborhood to get raped in Tompkins Square real good, they found her in the trunk of a Ford, now she can't dance no more.....
Or N.Y. Stars, a piece of blistering white funk that Lou sleepwalks through except to say, "I'm just waiting for them to hurry up and die", as he complains about the shitty imitators that have followed in his wake.
Or Ride Sally Ride, a lovely, morphinated piano ballad where Lou asks, "Isn't it nice, when you find your heart is made out of ice?", and then goes on to rhyme "confusion" with "contusion".
But the record's undisputed masterpiece is Kill Your Sons, Lou's recollection of his electroshock treatments as a teenager. Back when they thought homosexual tendencies were a psychiatric disorder. Lou's voice is drenched in reverb and the guitars play some hard major-chord grunge. Prakash John plays the bass like a psychotic episode. "They said they'd let you live at home with mom and dad instead of mental hospitals", says Lou, as if he might have preferred the hospitals. He name-checks some of New York City's institutions, "Creedmoor treated me very good, Paine-Whitney was even better", but "when they shoot you up on Thorazine and crystal smoke, you choke like a son of a gun."
DON'T YOU KNOW THEY'RE GONNA KILL YOUR SONS???
1. Ride Sally Ride
2. Animal Language
3. Baby Face
4. N.Y. Stars
5. Kill Your Sons
7. Sally Can't Dance