February 7, 2003

POE-try in Motion

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It’s not clear that the English language has enough strength to convey just how much irony is contained in Lou Reed’s The Raven. Then again, the irony could plausibly be intentional, making it unironic. There was a point, at the half-way mark, listening to an a capella rendition of a song entitled “Balloon,” (containing the lyrics, “I’m a little balloon and I get puffed up”) when I realized I had absolutely no idea what was happening. It was literally incomprehensible. I tore the headphones off my head and enmeshed myself in a warm tartan to ward off the cold of confusion.

Some background: Lou Reed, progenitor of the Velvet Underground and, as a result, every indie rock album of the last thirty years, has been awkwardly settling into the dusty confines of the “old rocker” role for the last decade, alternately entranced by the muses of old-timey pop sap and a return to garage/blues rock. Developing an understandable penchant for the works of Edgar Allen Poe (a precursor of the Beat culture that spawned the VU aesthetic), Reed has now devoted his energies to rendering Poe intelligible to the musical world.

There was a time in the mid-1970s, a period for which I wasn’t even remotely sentient, when Reed seemed able to do anything. He could make “the colored girls say ‘do, do, do'” or he could release a double-album of catastrophic bombast that almost killed music (Metal Machine Music). After spending most of the last few years in the servitude of unremarkable and correctly ignored music, it i