October 23, 2003

Repeat Button: Lou Reed

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Lou Reed has always been able to pull just about anything off because he’s always been cool without being cold. No matter how experimental the music, how complicated the lyric, Reed inevitably seems to be having a blast. That’s the reason he manages to do the impossible on “Foot of Pride.” A tribute concert, overblown arrangement, and hastily assembled band is a sure recipe for disaster. But Lou turns out a stunning, hypnotic, tight number that outdoes the original.

Bob Dylan is, of course, God, but he takes his genius casually. He sometimes allows for too little variation in his vocals and orchestration, which can make his songs feel strangely motionless and almost boring. It’s easy to see how “Foot of Pride” could fall into that trap. It contains a dazzling array of perfect little miniature myths and allusions, but there’s even less of a clear narrative than usual. But Lou makes nasty, dirty, sloppy guitar the perfect anchor to the song, layering on everything from furious drumming to gospel infused organ until the entire song is wrapped tight in beautifully textured rhythm and melody.

The real triumph is what he does with Dylan’s obscurely brilliant words. Dylan lets his observation and parables drop too easily, almost disdainfully. Reed savors the flavor of the words, their occasional bitterness and keen observation. And these are lyrics that deserve such treatment. Dylan effortlessly reworks clich