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Raven
     

Raven

3.0 2
by Lou Reed
 

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You've got to hand it to Lou Reed, perhaps the only composer extant who, when faced with the challenge of weaving a song cycle around the works of Edgar Allan Poe, would deign to rewrite the author at will. Funnily enough, Reed's own mind-set -- paranoid, fretful, and dark -- dovetails so well with Poe's that it's easy to ignore the few seams that show over the course

Overview

You've got to hand it to Lou Reed, perhaps the only composer extant who, when faced with the challenge of weaving a song cycle around the works of Edgar Allan Poe, would deign to rewrite the author at will. Funnily enough, Reed's own mind-set -- paranoid, fretful, and dark -- dovetails so well with Poe's that it's easy to ignore the few seams that show over the course of this two-hour tour de force. The Raven, a reworking of POEtry, a stage play that Reed and Robert Wilson put together in 2000, is a wide-ranging collection, comprising spoken-word and musically backed readings in addition to original songs. Reed's deadpan is key in the delivery of such pieces as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," but he calls in some stellar talent to read other Poe classics, including David Bowie, Steve Buscemi, and Willem Dafoe, who casts an alluring chill over the poem that gives the set its title. Certain of the experiments -- Reed's unwieldy "Old Poe," for one -- fail to resonate with the urgency of the source material. But elsewhere -- as on the Ornette Coleman–accompanied "Guilty" -- Reed rises to the occasion admirably. His longtime backing band, keyed by the alternately jagged and wispy guitar playing of Mike Rathke, shines on instrumentals such as "A Thousand Departed Friends" as well as the suitably gothic backing tracks of tunes like the eerily serpentine "Burning Embers." The single-disc version excises most of the spoken-word interludes, but this is one case in which more is actually more: The limited-edition version not only includes the full musical work but also comes in a special package designed by Julian Schnabel.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Mark Deming
Edgar Allan Poe was a man who usually looked on the dark side of life, had more than a few less-than-healthy romantic and sexual obsessions, was known to dabble in dangerous drugs, and was fascinated with the possibilities of the English language, so it's no wonder why Lou Reed regards Poe as a kindred spirit. In his liner notes to the album The Raven, Reed touches on the parallels between their work when he writes, "I have reread and rewritten Poe to ask the same questions again. Who am I? Why am I drawn to do what I should not?...Why do we love what we cannot have? Why do we have a passion for exactly the wrong thing?" Reed's obsession with Poe's work found a creative outlet when visionary theatrical director Robert Wilson commissioned Reed to adapt Poe's works to music for a production called POE-Try, and The Raven collects the material Reed wrote for this project, as well as a number of dramatic interpretations of Poe's work, featuring performances by Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth Ashley, Amanda Plummer, and others. The limited-edition two-disc version of The Raven gives a nearly equal balance to words and music; while the single-disc edition is dominated by Reed's songs, the double-disc set features a much greater number of spoken-word pieces, most of which have been filtered through Reed's imagination, with a more intense focus on sex, drugs, and conflict as a result. While the condensed version of The Raven sounds like one of the oddest and most audacious rock albums of recent memory, the complete edition feels more like a lengthy performance piece (albeit a rather unusual one), and while it lacks something in the way of a central narrative, the focus on the letter as well as the spirit of Poe's work seems a great deal clearer here. The pitch of the acting is sometimes a bit sharp (especially Dafoe, who seems to be projecting to the last row of the balcony), but the con brio performances certainly suit the tenor of the material and Poe's writing style. Musically, The Raven is all over the map, leaping from low-key acoustic pieces to full-bore, window-rattling rock & roll, with a number of stops along the way. Reed also touches more than casually on his own past as well, with new recordings of "The Bed" and "Perfect Day" added to the sequence, and for a man not known for his ability to collaborate well, The Raven is jam-packed with guest artists, including David Bowie, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Ornette Coleman, and Laurie Anderson, all of whom are used to their best advantage. The mix of ingredients on The Raven is heady, and the result is more than a little bizarre, but there's no mistaking the fact that Reed's heart and soul are in this music; even the most oddball moments bleed with passion and commitment, whether he's handing the vocal mic over to Buscemi for a faux-lounge number, conjuring up brutal guitar distortion while his band wails behind him, or confronting his fears and desires with just a piano to guide him. Truth to tell, Reed hasn't sounded this committed and engaged on record since Magic and Loss over a decade before; The Raven reaches for more than it can grasp, especially in its two-hours-plus expanded edition, and is dotted with experiments that don't work and ideas that don't connect with their surroundings. But the good stuff is strong enough that anyone who cares about Lou Reed's body of work, or Edgar Allan Poe's literary legacy, ought to give it a careful listen.

Product Details

Release Date:
01/28/2003
Label:
Reprise / Wea
UPC:
0093624837220
catalogNumber:
48372

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Lou Reed   Primary Artist,Bass,Guitar,Vocals,electronics
David Bowie   Vocals
Art Baron   Trombone
Ornette Coleman   Alto Saxophone
Anna McGarrigle   Vocals,Background Vocals
Mike Rathke   Guitar
Fernando Saunders   Bass
Tony Smith   Drums,Background Vocals
Marti Sweet   Violin
Shelley Woodworth   Bass,Background Vocals
Frank Wulff   Hurdy-Gurdy,Ebo
Jane Scarpantoni   Cello,Conductor
Kate McGarrigle   Vocals,Background Vocals
Russ Desalvo   Guitar,Keyboards
Antoine Silverman   Violin
Steve Buscemi   Vocals
Steven Bernstein   Trumpet,Flugelhorn,Slide Trumpet
Patrick Carroll   Bass
Paul Shapiro   Alto Saxophone,Baritone Saxophone,Tenor Saxophone
Blind Boys of Alabama   Vocals
Elizabeth Ashley   Voices

Technical Credits

Laurie Anderson   Poetry
Lou Reed   Arranger,Producer,Engineer,Liner Notes,Melody Arrangement
Willem Dafoe   Poetry
Amanda Plummer   Contributor
Bob Cadway   Engineer
Rob Eaton   Engineer
Tim Latham   Engineer
Rob Mathes   String Arrangements
Rick Wake   Arranger,Producer
Hal Willner   Producer
Julian Schnabel   Artwork
Jane Scarpantoni   String Arrangements
Russ Desalvo   Arranger
Thomas R. Yezzi   Engineer
Steven Bernstein   Horn Arrangements
Aaron Franz   Engineer
Patrick Carroll   drum programming
Jim Monti   Engineer

Customer Reviews

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Raven 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this album to give it a listen - what a load of old bull****. He must be hard on ideas to bring out another version of A Perfect Day (sung by "Antony" according to the inside cover and which maybe was the only track I liked ). There are several spoken tracks; if you like listening to recitals then go and listen to Jim Morrison or go and actually read Edgar Allen Poe. If you want to listen to some decent music go and take a look at King Crimson, The Doors, Morphine or Muse (I like Muse a lot, though I'm old enough to be their mother).