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Music DVD Review

DVD cover

Lou Reed's Berlin


Artist: Lou Reed
Artificial Eye
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 27 October 2008

There are moments and records which define turning point in our lives, for me it was the release of Lou Reed's 1973 Berlin album.

To understand the power of this record of nihilistic love you have to remember that the most successful songs of that year were The Rolling Stones's ‘Angie’, The Sweets's ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and Tony Orlando’s ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’, it would be a long time before the same sentiment would be presented in more powerful and realistic terms such as Green Day’s ‘When September Ends’, no these songs alternated between being over sentimental and downright sickly, they represented a pale view of relationships, then along came the cold shower, wake up call of Berlin.

Berlin, like much of Lou’s work with the Velvet Underground, takes a much darker view of love and jealousy. I suppose that you could call it a concept album, a term which has been somewhat sullied by the excesses of the prog-rock scene, but has also produced classic albums like The Who’s ‘Quadraphenia’ and  Pink Floyd's ‘The Wall’ all of which present a jaded dystopian view of love. 

Lou’s previous album ‘Transformer’ had, with the pop sensibility of David Bowie, become a critical and commercial success. Although the songs were often dark and subversive they were delivered in an almost light-hearted way, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when Berlin was released it became a commercial and critical failure.

The album and concert tell the story of Caroline and Jim whose Initial love affair turns sour, with violence, drink and drugs, until the authorities are finally forced to take her children away. With little left to live for Caroline takes her own life. It’s a simple story powerfully told.

Lou's reaction to the critical hammering was to never play the album live... that is until now. Over many years fans and friends have tried to get him to perform the album and somehow the director Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly) succeeded.

The performance captured here happened over five nights at the St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2006, with a cracking line-up. Lou takes vocals and, although he has lost much of the lilting quality of voice which he displayed on the original recording, his craggy, world weary performance produces more invective and pain than the original ever did, suggesting that some of the songs and sentiments may have been drawn from Reed’s own life.

Although the concert contains three extra songs, at the end the main bulk of the concert, it follows the same track listing as the album, except for a choral blast of 'Sad Song' at the beginning:

Lady Day
Men of Good Fortune
Caroline Says I
How Do You Think it Feels
Oh Jim
Caroline Says II
The Kids
The Bed
Sad Song

Following the concert Anthony Hegarty joins Lou in singing 'Candy Says', before Lou breaks into 'Rock Minuet' and, of course, 'Sweet Jane'. The concert is presented by Schnabel as a combination of concert footage with an amount of new material which attempts to put the film into some context; for the most part it works well.

I’ll be honest, for a Reed fan this is the Holy Grail that we have been waiting for for thirty years, but if you’re not a fan, or at least not a fan of great concerts then you may want to rent before you buy.

The whole shebang lasts for one hour and twenty-one minutes with the three extra songs. Obviously the copy I received was a pre-release so there were no menus or extras and the audio was a disappointing 2.0, though I believe that it will eventually come with a 5.1 track. And if the Blu-ray comes with a DTS-HD audio track I know which one I’ll be buying.


Charles Packer

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