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Music review: Lou Reed's 'The Raven'

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Music review: Lou Reed's 'The Raven'

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mucha mosaic
Today's music review is: .
Why the hell is it that everybody on the planet seems to think they need to do an audio tribute album or (angels and holy ministers preserve us) an OPERA of Edgar Allen Poe?
I love Poe. I love Poe's poetry hugely. Muchly. Variably. His fiction, as well. This is not a rock and roll album (though there are a couple of rock songs on it): this is a dramatic reading with accompanying music, mostly. This is a more 'mature' work, or so the professional reviewer would say at this point: me, I'll call it more theatrical reading and less rock opera.
I'm reminded a lot of the Brecht/Weil cover album, 'September Songs': there's a similar feel of deliberate commingling of glitter and grit.

The project is doomed to fail at 'succeeding' in capturing Poe's essence. There are several reasons.
Reason #1: Electric Guitar. There are many things I think of when I think of Poe's work, musically. None of them are a thumpin' Lou Reed rock tune. There are several thumpin' Lou Reed rock tunes on this CD.
Reason #2: Ornette Coleman Many of the musical things I think of while reading Poe are also not a saxophone. I adore Ornette Coleman- this is not a suite that I think was aptly suited to his work.
Reason #3: Lou Reed One should not sing outside of one's range. One should certainly not sing way outside of what's left of one's range. One should most definitely not commit this to permanent media if one MUST break the first two rules.
Reason #4: Lou Reed If one's going to do a suite / operetta about Poe, one should perhaps stick to Poe's words as libretto as much as possible, oughtn't one? I don't need a song with lyrics that go 'These are the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, Not exactly the boy next door'. Other pieces, in which Reed attempts to emulate Poe's style of diction, pull off BEAUTIFULLY well.

This project doesn't, honestly, unremittingly fail. Some of it doesn't work at all (I'm thinking especially of the Overture, lyrics quoted above: the Fall of the House of Usher piece also is pretty chaotically badly laid out): too pretentious, too intellectualized. Poe managed to inhabit that weird interstice between the visceral reaction of sheer terror, and the intellectualization of trying to reason out what's going on; that flip-flop zone, the flinch-response/intellectual-curiosity byplay is what makes Poe's work so affecting. The visceral isn't as gutsy as it needs to be, I think.
The things that actually do work are unexpected:
Reason #1: Amanda Plummer She brings her own weird little perspective to Poe's work, which makes her reading of Tripitena (Hopfrog's beloved) chilling; which makes The City In The Sea have an entirely different, and far dryer, bleaker feel. She blows my mind here. Totally.
Reason #2: Willem Defoe His readings are varied- calm to frenzied, sad to jubilant. His reading of the Raven also gives the poem a... fresh sound, to my ear. Something unfamiliar about it. Something... stronger, and yet somehow weaker. His reading of Ligiea is also quite engrossing.
Reason #3: Elizabeth Ashley I have never heard of this woman before. She sounds utterly chilling, and terrifying, and hysterical, and mad, and... wow. She rocks. Hugely.
Reason #4: THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO This one's worth the price of admission all by itself: Willem Dafoe as the narrator, and Fortunado portrayed by Steve Buscemi.

overall? I essentially like it. however, it's an inconsistent work, and I think it does assume a big degree of familiarity with Poe's oeuvre. Not everyone reading this owns a 12-volume Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, so it's something you should probably not venture into if you're not already familiar with Poe's stories and poetry.
  • Minor points:

    1. Ornette Coleman is a MAN, baby
    2. I am in love with Amanda Plummer
    3. Elizabeth Ashley does indeed rock; I've seen her on Homicide and Law and Order among other things.
    4. ... but is it better than the Alan Parsons album? The comparisons are inevitable!
    • minor responses:

      1: Whoops. Corrected above, and thank you. And here I'd always wondered how a woman had managed to accomplish such a solid standing in the rather androgarchic world of jazz instruments. Heh.
      2: Many times I sort of am struck 'eehn' by her. This, and Fisher King, are the two HUGE exceptions. Right now? I can totally understand being madly in love with her.
      3: I did some further research on her- rather remarkable woman (she's Elizabeth Ashley (I) on imdb.com)
      4: I like it better. I am a heathen, however, and bear no great love of the Alan Parsons Project. And hey; Alan Parsons didn't have Willem Dafoe and Steve Buscemi reading The Cask of Amontillado.
      • Re: minor responses:

        And another thing:

        Sylvester Stallone once told an interviewer that he was a Poe fan and that he'd always wanted to do a bio-pic about Poe. There's a great New Yorker humor piece about this ... WHAT IF ... ! It's called "Yo, Poe" and it's in Fierce Pajamas, the recent collection of New Yorker humor writing (which I recommend heartily).
  • .02

    i would like to give this a listen, sometime soon. thanks for the comparison to september songs. i wondered some, when i heard of the project, whether it would come across the same way.

    and to drag this a little ways off topic, what are your feelings about lost in the stars as compared with that other brecht/weill various-artists album? you can probably guess where my feelings lie in this, and you're probably right.
    • Re: .02

      Hmmmn. I like Brecht/Weil, but I haven't heard Lost In The Stars. I shall have to investigate.
      I actually rather like September Songs, though. The deliberate asphalt-imprinted-flesh of the pieces, with bits of glitter that stick along with small bits of grit- it's just pleasing to me. The Nick Cave Mack the Knife is actually my least favorite contribution out of the lot, and yet I love his Mack the Knife. :)
      • Re: .02

        the sting "moritat" on lost is excellent. and...oh, i could go on for faaar too long about the album. i don't own it anymore, though i did once. if you see it somewhere, do yourself a favor.
        • Re: .02

          How about that- it's actually in print.
          Amazon lists it thus, anyways...
          • Re: .02

            track two? yeah, the vocalist on that is sting. on three, it's stan ridgway of wall of voodoo. it's entirely possible that hearing the name "richard butler" means more to you than it does to me, but here's a hint: psych furs.

            of course, i fell in love with this disc when i was much more consciously and vocally a fan of brecht and weill (still love them, not as influenced by them, ten years on*).

            *i know i had a copy a few years before that, because i listened to it in 1991...
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