[Review] Lou Reed: Berlin (1973)

Reed recycles some old bits into a brilliant concept album about domestic abuse, produced by the king of the concept album, Bob Ezrin.

Kronomyth 3.0: Love it to death.

If Lou Reed’s earlier songs were a slap in the face, Berlin was a punch in the stomach. Produced and arranged by the conceptual/theatrical Bob Ezrin, Reed’s third album is a concept album that chronicles an abusive relationship between Jim and Caroline that ends, um, badly. There are no heroes here, no winners, only losers.

Reed had given us many glimpses into troubled lives over the years, but Berlin is one long, unblinking stare at a tragedy that unfolds before our eyes and ears. Transformer smoothed out Reed’s rough edges. Berlin elevates them into spires on a great black cathedral for lost souls, resulting in his darkest work to date. The genius of Berlin is that it’s compiled largely from leftover pieces. “Berlin” had appeared in a brighter version on Lou Reed’s first album. “Oh, Jim,” “Caroline Says II” and “Men of Good Fortune” have their origins in the Velvet Underground. And yet Berlin moves seamlessly from honeymoon to hell and back again, as if it were stitched to a pattern. Ezrin has since stated his attraction to “heavy” themes, and the second side of Berlin is unbearably heavy. But Berlin is also one of Reed’s most musical albums, featuring strings, choirs and complex arrangements. The idea of staging Reed’s bleak narratives would seem crazy at first glance; crazy like a wolf and foxy, it turns out.

Over the years, Reed’s tale of doomed lovers has grown in stature as new generations scale its formidable wall of pain. In 2006, Reed performed the album in its entirety for a handful of shows in New York, which became the basis for a film directed by Julian Schnabel. A nice bit of recycling, that; Andy would have been proud.

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Original LP Version

A1. Berlin (3:23)
A2. Lady Day (3:40)
A3. Men of Good Fortune (4:37)
A4. Caroline Says I (3:57)
A5. How Do You Think It Feels (3:42)
A6. Oh, Jim (5:13)
B1. Caroline Says II (4:10)
B2. The Kids (7:55)
B3. The Bed (5:51)
B4. Sad Song (6:55)

All songs written by Lou Reed. Arranged by Bob Ezrin.

The Players

Lou Reed (vocals and acoustic guitar, choir), Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Jack Bruce (bass), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), Bob Ezrin (piano and mellotron, choir), Steve Hunter (electric guitar), Jon Pierson (bass trombone), Dick Wagner (background vocals and electric guitar, choir), Steve Winwood (organ and harmonium) with Dennis Ferrante (choir), Steve Hyden (choir), Tony Levin (bass on B2), Allan Macmillan (piano on A1), Elizabeth March (choir), Gene Martynec (acoustic guitar, synthesizer, vocal arranging, bass), Blue Weaver (piano on A3), B.J. Wilson (drums). Produced by Bob Ezrin; engineered by Robin Black, Dennis Ferrante, Peter Flanagan; overdubbing by Richard Kewzey.

The Pictures

Album concept and design by Pacific Eye & Ear. Photography by Saint-Jivago Desanges/La Legion.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in October(?) 1973 in the US and Canada (RCA, APL1/APS1-0207), the UK (RCA Victor, RS 1002) and France (RCA, 435500) with gatefold cover and lyrics booklet; reached #7 on the UK charts and #98 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1974 in Japan (RCA, RCA-6181) with gatefold cover and lyrics booklet.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in the UK (RCA, INTS 5150), the US (RCA, AYL1-4388) and Germany (RCA International, NL 84388).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (RCA, RPL-2118).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc and cassette in 1988 in the US (RCA, 50207-2).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in Japan (BMG/RCA, B20D-41006).
  6. Re-packaged with Transformer on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1996 (BMG).
  7. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on March 24, 1998 in the US (RCA, 67489).
  8. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in Japan (RCA, BVCM-35056).
  9. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on February 22, 2007 in Japan (RCA, BVCM-37727).
  10. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in the UK (Simply Vinyl, S125040).
  11. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (RCA/Legacy, 00104).
  12. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2009 in the US (Music On Vinyl, MOVLP012).
  13. Re-released on blu-ray compact disc in 2013 in Japan (RCA, SICP-30091).

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