Throwback Thursday (Music) | Lou Reed’s “Berlin”

Berlin tbt_75

This album is a rollercoaster ride that never truly seemed to have any uphill moments, emotionally.





Expectations of Berlin are usually of a sad, dark blues taking you through the gloomy, obscure mind of the late, Lou Reed. The reality, however, is much different. The album starts with a wave of jazz and club sounds, a chanting of “Happy Birthday,” and slowly drifts into the piano of the first song. The first half of Berlin seems like 1960s goth-party music sung by someone who is gritting their teeth. It’s definitely an acquired taste.

Berlin is potentially a concept album. Throughout the album, questions like “What is this really about?” crop up between the sung-spoken lyrics in our minds. Lou Reed’s distinctively deep, scratchy voice drifts around, in and out of ears, and out the door like lingering cigarette smoke.

I speculate that the album is about the narrator finding his “German queen.” They have a long, but difficult, relationship hidden behind this mask of bizarre cheerfulness. Then, things take an even worse turn, and Caroline (Lou Reed’s “German queen”) starts neglecting her kids and husband. Eventually she kills herself. At the end of the Berlin our narrator sings his late wife, literally, a “Sad Song”.

After a few listens, Berlin follows the same pattern as many of The Velvet Underground’s songs, like “Heroin,” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” and there are many instances of reprised songs from The Velvet Underground’s catalogue.

Don’t be surprised if it isn’t until the album gets to “Caroline Says I” that you really started to listen. This essential track is a good example of the hate-masked-party sound. You can tell that Reed is being sarcastic and dark, behind the fast-paced tempo and fun, dreamy-chorus. Then, suddenly, the song “Oh Jim” kicks in, and the album takes a nosedive to the dark, empty sound everyone expected.

After a few listens, the initial, plastic cheeriness of the beginning of the album flakes off and gives way to the true sound that Reed was going for. This album is a rollercoaster ride that never truly seemed to have any uphill moments, emotionally. Musically, Berlin, isn’t for anyone looking for crazy riffs, poppy hooks, or a wall of sound. Berlin is the lonely beatnik’s anthem, calling to those lost in the dark, smoky corners of jazz clubs and bookstores of the 60s and 70s. B | Vella Mour

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