Lou Reed - The RCA & Arista Album Collection album review

There’s nothing wrong with this

Lou Reed photograph
(Image: © Gie Knaeps\/Press)

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Whether diehard Lou aficionado or mildly curious passing punter, you really have to have a serious word with yourself if you don’t recognise the benefits of allowing this exquisitely crafted box set of Reed’s first 16 solo albums to grace your record collection. After all, even if you own a fraction, or even all, of its contents already you’ve never heard them like this.

Painstakingly remastered under the, no doubt, strict supervision of Lou himself (his final project before his tragic passing in 2013), the audio clarity reveals nuances, subtleties, crispness and depth formerly immersed, invisible and overlooked. So it sounds good, but how does it look? Stylish, sleek, expensive. Outwardly, it’s a matt black, 12 by 12-inch gravestone with a fetish-friendly tactile rubber finish. So far, so Lou.

Nestled inside are five 8x10-inch prints, a facsimile poster and a hardback book that’s tastefully packed with memorabilia, cannily curated shots, artwork and archive interviews and is so deliciously classy you almost can’t read it for fear of finishing it, and having to go back to the drab, empty little life you led before opening it.

Musically? Well, it’s genius. There’s his feet-finding, Velvets’-echoing self-titled debut, his Bowie and (especially) Ronson-directed commercial breakthrough Transformer; noir epic Berlin; metal template Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal; soul-crushing, feedback fuck-you Metal Machine Music. There’s his sordid, Selby-esque überLou masterpiece Street Hassle and eternally overlooked melodramatic magnum opus, The Bells; these two title tracks alone dwarf entire careers with attitude to spare.

NY rock’s most mythologised phantom gleefully exercises his monstrous legend across the gloriously profane and tetchy Live Take No Prisoners double set. The recruitment of ex-Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine as complementary sparring partner triggered The Blue Mask’s mid-career surge before returns tend to diminish, Lou misreading the societal conservatism of the mid-80s as a trigger to enter comfortable (artistically reduced) middle age. His fire returned for New York, but for that you’ll need the, relatively modest, Sire Years box.

Completist pedants may mourn the omission of record company cash-in Lou Reed Live (Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal’s off-cuts, basically) and additional tracks appended to some earlier CD editions, but if you really must have your Mona Lisas with moustaches they’re all over eBay.

This, meanwhile, expensive as it looks, weighs in at under £100. Less than six quid a disc. So it’s seductively cheap, yet utterly priceless. Much like its contents.

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Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.