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Lou Reed 

Ecstasy (Reprise)

Lou Reed's latest is one of his more memorable efforts -- not for the overlong "Like a Possum," but for its smaller, more intimate tunes. "Like a Possum," 18-plus minutes of rant and rave, about aging and sin and the way aging wears sin down, is a great talking point, though, particularly because of the guitar weave Reed crafts with longtime foil Mike Rathke. Part mantra, part drone, and way too long, it evokes such earlier Reed mindscapes as Street Hassle and, on the live side, the flawed, provocative Take No Prisoners. Like those earlier strolls along the wild side, "Like a Possum" boasts imagery to burn. Too bad Reed didn't edit it harder. If he had, it might be memorable for vividness rather than prolixity.

Other tunes fare better. The title track, "Turning Time Around," the slinky, nostalgic "Baton Rouge," and the oddball travelogue "Modern Dance" are mesmerizing additions to the Reed canon, and uptempo tunes like the frenetic "Future Farmers of America" and the defiant "Big Sky" prove Reed can still rock. "Ecstasy" suggests the kind of tune Nick Drake might have written had he lived into the psychedelic age. "Turning Time Around," complete with horns, shows how well Reed has absorbed the vocal mannerisms of Otis Redding, who was a much better singer (if, perhaps, not as street-savvy as Reed). And "Modern Dance" is sophisticated commentary on the way genders and attitudes bend so readily these days.

Reed's voice -- nasal, penetrating, even a bit wobbly at times -- grows better with age. So does the minimalist guitar style he has been developing since his days with the Velvet Underground 35 years ago. Reed and studio veteran Hal Willner produced this with an ear for clarity, texture, and volume; certain tracks pop out, like "Future Farmers," "Big Sky," and the last half of "Ecstasy." It's as if Reed and Willner wanted to underline certain passages to make sure the listener pays attention. Not to worry, though. At his best -- and some tracks here are on that level -- Reed is one of the last great voices of the rock experience. And even if he's having a hard time reconciling age (Reed turned 57 on March 23) with the sleek showboating rock performance demands, he's still making records that are ornery enough for credibility.

More by Carlo Wolff


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