Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lou Reed - Mistrial

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: rock
Label: RCA
Year: 1986
Home: New York City (deceased)

Members: Lou Reed ~ vocals/guitars
Fernando Saunders ~ bass/drum programming/rhythm guitar/keyboards/percussion/b. vocals

Additional: Eddie Martinez ~ rhythm guitar
Rick Bell ~ tenor saxophone
J.T. Lewis ~ drums/percussion
Sammy Merendino ~ percussion/drum programming
Jim Carroll, Ruben Blades ~ b. vocals


LR, recently departed & bless his soul, made it hard to be a LR fan. Being a Velvet Underground fan was easy, but his solo career had some amazing highs often out of balance with some experimental moments more about self-indulgence then great gutsy yet simple rock music & big city themed storytelling. While, let's be honest, he really couldn't sing nor play guitar, & the success of his wild 70's days were often the result of creative producers & too many drugs. But, what keeps us LR fans dedicated is put his tough to love leather voice into a pot with a touch of experimenting but not too much & his best poetry/lyrics & its some of the most powerful singer-songwriter music to be created in the rock field. The 70's were the defining days for his solo career, while the early 80's saw a sober LR taking up the guitar, reinventing himself as a tai chi practitioner & writing some great though not so gritty lyrics, while the 90's saw a balancing out & musical adventuring as the angst of youth fell away to be replaced by an elder statesman with a Edgar Allen Poe obsession. Some might say everything in his 70's days can be summarized with the classic Transformer while the later days climax with New York & maybe Ecstasy. Get those albums & you'll be doing good for starters, though far from doing anything but scratching the surface of the musical world of LR. Just be careful as you go forth as you'll quickly become a collector & fan & that's where the trouble starts as you start making random buys unintentionally just because it has LR's name on it. For many fans it's been hard to walk with him on his solo career which has put out too few great albums & too many odd ducks, Metal Machine Music & Lulu with Metallica not included. When LR is inspired its amazing, when he's off on some tangent it's self-indulgent, vague, overly introspective or not understandable by anyone but LR or all of the above. When he's trying to imitate music trends he never carries it off well. LR is great at being LR & not sounding like anyone else. When he lets himself be LR all is good, not always bearable, but certainly fascinating & unique, sometimes even making his artistic partner-in-crime-cum-widow Laurie Anderson seem normal in comparison. I've often wondered if she got envious of the strange misguided directions her spouse went? Mistrial is LR on one of the above described tangents & low point Lou. One reviewer called it worse than the headache making Metal Machine Music, Lulu having not been released yet, which is considered a low point in music in general & the litmus test of both bad & self-indulgent & unlistenable. This isn't that bad. This at least has coherent melody & rhythm lines. Lyrically though ... well, the earlier album is instrumental ... yet, those non-existent lyrics are not as shallow as what LR lays out here & the reason this album rates so low generally. It's all about the words on any LR album & this one aims low & hits its target square on. It's shallow with vague lyrics about throwaway topics, almost as if Lou was watching MTV wanting to be the popular Dire Straits. On the other hand, it features him on both lead & rhythm guitar for the first time, though he's really not a great guitar player with wandering unfocused cluttered lines that make it by their simplicity not their skill. Do the good guitars balance the bad lyrics? Not at all given how many songs are lyrically aiming for social hard hitting while the guitars are pop & lightweight. The best musical thing, which rescues many LR albums, is bassist Fernando Saunders who lasted longer with LR than any other musician & is often the musical backbone of many projects including co-producer. It's ashame he's not more of a well-known musician as his skills & experimenting are perfect for LR & way above average, or above what one might expect but then LR always had good taste in musicians. His textured playing is often the glue for a LR album. He gets bonus points here for trying to work with such weak material. But, no matter the efforts of its participants the album comes back to & falls apart at the lyrics. What was LR thinking? Where was he going? What was his message? What was he trying to say or comment upon? They aren't visual or introspective but meandering & pop rock wannabe throwaways & is that LR trying to tone down his writing or act cool for the masses? What has he said after the fact about this album to help us fans out with dealing with this mess? The title track is the best example with the first verse: "When I was six I had my first lady/When I was eight my first drink/When I was fourteen I was speeding in the street/What could anybody say to me." This might be the opening of a story, but its just a list with no point & doesn't make sense, driven home by the horrible chorus: "You can call me mister, you can call me sir/But don't you point your finger at me/I want a mistrial to clear my name/I want a mistrial in front of the people/I want a mistrial to clear my name/I want to bring my case to the people of New York City." Someone give LR a reward for creating a disaster. I once read an interview where Yngwie Malmsteen said that at some point a master musician doesn't need a producer's guiding hand. Usually when a musician says that they are at a point where they could use a producer more than ever. LR gives us proof. So many other songs have good ideas but are undeveloped, such as in "No Money Down" that fuses love & business iconography with "you're paying a price when there's no price to pay, lover's trust, no money down" sung with a David Bowie retro chorus. It's too weakly developed to be anything more than an interesting idea & a disaster of a listen. The album tends to move from throwaway social commentary (i.e. "Outside", "Video Violence", "The Original Wrapper") to upbeat love songs, when everyone knows that LR excels at torrid love songs (i.e. "I Remember You", "Don't Hurt A Woman", "Mama's Got A Lover", "Spit It Out"). "Tell It To Your Heart" might be the best love song on the album & in general best song, though minor in the LR catalog. He would come out in 1989 with New York blowing Mistrial away for good & in turn living up to its name. He'd actually go back to writing good lyrics versus stringing words together that sound good & making songs that don't.


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