Lou Reed: Magic And Loss (1992)

Into each life a little rain must fall. That it takes Lou Reed, dampened messenger of death, fourteen songs to reach the same conclusion squelched those spirits who would have soared to meet Magic And Loss with the same accolades as New York. With a little prudent pruning to remove the dry, dull patches in its midst, Magic And Loss might have been another resounding success. Usually, about the time that “Sword of Damocles” strikes, I’m convinced that this album is arguably better than New York. The two share the same musical sensibilities, and the single “What’s Good” even sounds like a carbon copy of “Dirty Boulevard.” And a bracing balance of the elegiac (“Magician,” “Goodby Mass”) and the invincible (“Power And Glory”) paints a compelling picture of the living and the dead. But the disc never really recovers from the maudlin streak begun with “Goodby Mass.” The songs that follow are dire, often bereft of a melody, desolate places where Reed walks alone. There are some diamonds in this dusty place, notably the haunting and still “Dreamin’,” which suggests what a Lou Reed/Brian Eno collaboration would sound like. It’s a moving song, sung in a faraway voice as if distracted by a waking daydream. When Reed and Mike Rathke create songs like this, where Lou’s marble observations are contrasted with a colorful setting, the results are wonderful. Likewise, when the music and vocals draw from the same tuneless well, or simply seem to be mismatched, the outcome is deadly. If this desert of the senses had been omitted from the middle, songs like “Harry’s Circumcision” (pitch black humor), the cranky “Gassed And Stoked” (which deserved a more passionate reading), and the closing “Magic And Loss” (inviting shades of The Police) might have saved this dark mass from its own noose. Lou Reed deserves credit for staring death in the face for sixty minutes without blinking, but most listeners lack that sort of stamina. It’s possible that Lou overestimated his own appeal this time, confusing recent critical laurels for the hoary crown of wisdom. Or it could be that fourteen songs about death is agonizingly long for anyone not already inured to Mel Gibson’s directorial hand (Braveheart, presumably The Passion of Christ). New York had a streak of salvation in it, a zest for life that superceded its dark surroundings, whereas Magic And Loss succumbs first to mysticism, then fateful resignation. This recording may have been cathartic for Lou Reed, but audiences will find him better company strolling the streets of New York than on this bedside vigil.

The Songs
1. Dorita (The Spirit) (Lou Reed) (1:07)
2. What’s Good (The Thesis) (3:22)
3. Power And Glory (The Situation) (Lou Reed/Mike Rathke) (4:23)
4. Magician (Internally) (Lou Reed) (6:23)
5. Sword of Damocles (Externally) (3:42)
6. Goodby Mass (In A Chapel Bodily Termination) (Lou Reed) (4:25)
7. Cremation (Ashes To Ashes) (Lou Reed) (2:54)
8. Dreamin’ (Escape) (Lou Reed/Mike Rathke) (5:07)
9. No Chance (Regret) (Lou Reed) (3:15)
10. Warrior King (Revenge) (Lou Reed) (4:27)
11. Harry’s Circumcision (Reverie Gone Astray) (Lou Reed) (5:28)
12. Gassed And Stoked (Loss) (luo Reed/Mike Rathke) (4:18)
13. Power And Glory Part II (Magic/Transformation) (Lou Reed/Mike Rathke) (2:57)
14. Magic And Loss (The Summation) (Lou Reed/Mike Rathke) (6:39)

The Players
Lou Reed (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, background vocals), Michael Blair (percussion and drums, background vocals), Mike Rathke (acoustic, electric and Casio guitar), Rob Wasserman (Clevinger 6-string electric upright bass) with Roger Moutenot (background vocals on 2), The Legendary Little Jimmy Scott (background vocals on 3). Produced by Lou Reed and Mike Rathke; mixed by Lou Reed, Mike Rathke and Roger Moutenot; recording engineered by Roger Moutenot.

The Pictures
Art direction & design by Slyvia Reed and Spencer Drate. Additional design by Judith Salavetz and Dennis Ascienzo. Cover photo by Louis Jammes. Other photos by Sharon Felder.

The Plastic
Released on compact disc and cassette on January 14, 1992 in the US and Germany (Sire, 26662), the UK (Sire, WX 435C), Croatia (Croatia Records, MC 7 S 3036331), Israel (Sire, 926662-4)  and Japan (Sire, WPCP-4453); reached #80 on the US charts and #6 on the UK charts. Also released on limited edition compact disc in 1992 in the US (Sire, 26802) with metal cover.

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