RCA & Arista Album Collection: A Lou Reed Magnum Opus

Written by

Lou Reed, mid-1970s RCA Records portrait.

Lou Reed, RCA and Arista Album Collection contains 16 of Reed’s albums from 1972–1986, including two live albums. This 16-album collection comprises everything about Lou Reed’s music. It’s vicious, direct, simple, inspiring, maddening, inconsistent, expansive, and interesting. I can’t say I like everything in this compilation since I was never a fan of Metal Machine Music or Mistrial. But then when Reed is on, he is sublime, like in Berlin and Transformer.

This re-issue makes for an impressive showing. All 16 albums were remastered under Reed’s direction toward the end of his life when he was suffering from liver cancer. It was completed shortly before his death in October 2013. The collection includes 8″ x 10″ prints and an 80-page hardbound book that features photos, artwork, interviews and insightful liner notes written by Reed’s longtime friend and collaborator, Hal Willner. This compilation is well-worth having based on the remastering of Transformer alone. Never before has it sounded so penetrating, punchy, crystalline, and alive. The remastering of Berlin is also a sonic wonder. Reed has never sounded as high, nor as low.

Lou Reed, 1974. (Photo by Gie Knaeps)

Reed pushed boundaries like few other artists in the rock genre during the 1970s and 1980s—maybe except for Bowie, who collaborated with Reed on Transformer. Reed was never satisfied, which may explain the inconsistency of his work. Sometimes his experimentation and restless creativity rewarded us with masterpieces like his critically praised, anti-commercial Berlin, a profound schadenfreude of grief, loss, and sadness. It is a testament to his personality that he would follow his greatest commercial success, Transformerwith an album that mines the depths of depression. But that was Lou Reed.

For any Lou Reed fan this retrospective is a must; for those on the fence, it is essential. Two of his three best albums are included in the collection: Transformer (1972) and Berlin (1973). (The third, New York (1989), was recorded after this collection’s timespan.) Of Reed’s studio albums included in this collection, Coney Island Baby and The Blue Mask are also pure joy. Rock and Roll Heart, Street Hassle, New Sensations, Legendary Hearts and Lou Reed are solid. As for the rest, well, the good clearly outweighs the bad with Lou.

Reed always wanted to be thought of as a poet, and he crafted his lyrics as such. This collection offers a glimpse of the poetry and psyche of Lou Reed. In these 16 variations, you can determine who he was, and what he means to you.