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Rock N Roll Animal
Lou Reed

RCA 0472
Released: March 1974
Chart Peak: #45
Weeks Charted: 27
Certified Gold: 5/1/78

Lou ReedThis is a record to be played loud. Like a Formula One car, it doesn't really begin to perform until it's pushed close to the limit. As background music it isn't much, but powered up on a strong system loud enough to make enemies a quarter-mile away, Rock n Roll Animal -- recorded live at Lou Reed's Academy of Music concert December 21st, 1973 -- is, well, very fine.

Rock n Roll Animal, an album of Reed standards, opens with "Sweet Jane" and a jam by the band before Reed takes the stage, which established that, unlike some of his past backup groups, this one is first-rate. The rest of the side is devoted to a towering, unsettling version of "Heroin." Each listener can personally decide the morality of this song ("Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life"); as a performance it is sinister and stunning, rooted in a treacherous organ and strung taughtly on a set of vaulting guitar riffs. The piece has the atmosphere of a cathedral at black mass, where heroin is God.

Lou Reed - Rock N Roll Animal
Original album advertising art.
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Side two begins with "White Light/White Heat," a tidy piece of elemental rock, and closes with "Rock 'n' Roll," a good, driving concert tune which, on the record, is entertaining but runs rather long. Between these two is "Lady Day" -- like "Heroin," a great performance. On Berlin, a bitter, uncompromising concept album that was released a few months ago, Reed sang "Lady Day" with a distinct, if faint, sympathy for the poor freak who is its subject. In the concert version this is gone, leaving the song weaker as narrative but stronger musically. Reed snarls the words over an organ continuo counterpointed by lead guitar riffs that come down like the clap of doom.

For some reason the musicians are not given credit on the album. They are Pentti Glen, drums; Prakash John, bass; Ray Colcord, keyboards; and most notably, Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, guitars.

Rock n Roll Animal is much less claustrophobic and oppressive than Berlin, but many people will probably loathe it anyway. Faggots, junkies and sadists are not very pleasant, but theirs are the sensibilities Reed draws upon. His songs offer little hope. Nothing changes, nothing gets better. As Reed said in Berlin, "It's not like a TV program where all the bad things happen to people are tolerable. Life isn't that way, and neither is the album."

If there is a redemption in Reed's work beyond his honesty and musical brilliance it is, I think, courage. He never blinks. Nietzsche, who was at least as screwed up as Reed, wrote that "a test of man's well-being and consciousness of power is the extent to which he can acknowledge the terrible and questionable character of things, and whether he is in any need of a faith at the end."

Which is to say by implication that there is a beauty which arises not from happiness but from wretchedness, an efflorescence of decay, as they say. Here it is. Crank it up.

- Timothy Ferris, Rolling Stone, 3/28/74.

Bonus Reviews!

This live set is a prime example of why Reed is considered one of the most electrifying performers in rock today. The set is a simple one, featuring a standard rock combo and Reed's vocals, but there is an excitement provided by the guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner and Reed's renditions of his classics, "Heroin" and "Sweet Jane." One of the few live sets not requiring overdubs.

- Billboard, 1974.

At its best, Reed's live music brings the Velvets into the arena in a clean redefinition of heavy, thrilling without threatening to stupefy. "Lady Day," the slow one here, would pass for uptempo at many concerts, the made-in-Detroit guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner mesh naturally with the unnatural rhythms, and Reed shouts with no sacrifice of wit. I could do without Hunter's showboating "Introduction," and I've always had my reservations about "Heroin," but this is a live album with a reason for living. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Considered by many to be Reed's best live recording of classic Velvet Underground material, this five-song disc benefits form the strong backup efforts of a band that includes the guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. "Sweet Jane," "Heroin," "White Light/White Heat," and "Rock 'n' Roll" are all here. Robert Christgau said it most succinctly: "This is a live album with a reason for living." The sound quality on the CD is really very good for a concert recording. The unforgivable absence of any real information in the almost nonexistent liner notes is an all-too-common omission from so-called budget releases. B+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Retaining guitarists Hunter and Wagner from the Berlin sessions, Reed hired a rhythm section consisting of Prakash John on bass, Pentti Glan on drums, and Ray Colcord on keyboards. Two shows were recorded at New York's Academy of Music in 1973. Behind Reed the band produced fierce near-heavy-metal twin-guitar apotheosis for ninety minutes. Just under half of the concert made it onto this album. An FM radio staple at the time, Rock 'n' Roll Animal includes searing versions of The Velvet Underground classics "Sweet Jane," "Heroin," "White Light/White Heat," and "Rock 'n' Roll," plus "Lady Day" from Berlin. * * *

- Rob Bowman, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The live set where "Lou Reed" the character -- a gender-burning hypodermic-wielding rock & roll id monster -- took center stage. Reshaping Velvet Underground classics for a new generation, this also stands as a high point in Seventies guitar rock, epitomized by an epically jammed-out "Sweet Jane."

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 11/3/16.

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