Monday, March 5, 2012

"Growing up in Public" by Lou Reed (1980)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Filed between: Red Rider and R.E.O. Speedwagon.

Key Tracks:
Growing up in Public is a great song.  Standing on Ceremony and Think It Over aren't great, but they're at least listenable - and that's the bar for a key track this time around.  By the way, I know it's not Reed's fault since he came first by several decades, but the guitar part in Think It Over reminds me a lot of Creed.

Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
Um... everything else.

My Overal Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Don't bother.

I had mentioned last time that I really hoped "Growing up in Public" wouldn't turn out to be another "Metal Machine Music" or "Lulu."


It's not.  It's monumentally bad in it's own special way.  First of all, it's a pop record delivered with Reed's signature vocal stylings - i.e. the inability to carry a tune in a fifty gallon drum.  The next accessory to the vehicular manslaughter that is "Growing up in Public" is the lyrical content.  How do you go from writing songs about heroin and trannies to "how do you speak to the prettiest girl?"  Seems like an odd progression to me.

Reed tries his best to cram every nugget of seventies arena rock into this thing.  Matter of fact, most of the songs sound like they were rejects from Meat Loaf's "Dead Ringer" LP.  If you've heard "Dead Ringer," you know just how cruel a statement that is.  If you haven't, count yourself lucky. 

The truly sad thing is that Reed produced and played guitar too, and those parts work really well.  That's whay it's so frustrating.  Every bit of good will the music earns is dashed against the rocks by the vocals.  I think he should have let somebody else write the lyrics on this.  Maybe Warren Zevon.  That could have been really, really good.  "Growing up in public with your pants down" is a very Zevon-esque line.  More of that would have helped a lot. 

I also wish he would have let someone with more vocal talent sing here - Like Zevon or Elvis Costello or maybe even Johnny Rotten.  But Reed insists on singing and it's clear that he's happy with the result.  You can hear hear twinges of changes in his monotone delivery that show he's thinking about a certain style.  The Power of Positive Drinking is a "raggae" song and you can tell he listened to a couple Clash records before laying this one down.  On Teach the Gifted Children, he thinks he's gone gospel and would probably tell you it's a more soulful delivery than Bill Withers or Mavis Staples ever did.  But it's not.  It's all the exact one-trick-pony voice you always get with Reed.  "Growing up in Public" proves that it doesn't work for most types of songs.

Before I wrap up, I would like to call out two songs specifically for their auditory offenses - So Alone and Smiles.  Let's start with So Alone.  Fraught with paranoid lyrics about castration and group sex, this song has some terrible lines.  The two biggest cringers are the pick-up lines he uses: "you said you liked me for my mind, well I really like your behind" and "I don't blame you taking umbrage from animals looking at your cleavage."  Smiles just plain sucks.  I seriously thought the record was skipping because it just repeats the word "sick" or "slick" (I wasn't going to play it again to find out) for about 30-45 seconds for no apparent reason toward the end.  Then, Reed has the balls to close it out with "doot do doots" almost identical to the ones he used in Walk on the Wild Side.

If there is a silver lining to "Growing up in Public," it's that most of the songs are really short and now I don't have to wonder anymore about what could sound worse than the Bee Gee's "Sgt. Pepper" fiasco.

So, is it an album?  No, it's an ego trip.

Up next - are you expletive kidding me?!  "1984" by Van Halen?  Enough with the Van Halen!!!  I swear, at this point I feel like I'll end up having to review "A Different Kind of Truth" for Revisiting Vinyl.  I need a new random number generator.  Anybody got some extra ten-sided dice?

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