Reed forged his image as rock's black-leather Baudelaire in the Warhol-sponsored '60s band, the Velvet Underground. Since then, his sardonic lyrics and detached delivery have secured his stance as the bard of baaad, ever walking on the wild side.
Magic and Loss is Reed's 21st solo album and one of his strongest. Rife with visions of drugs, death and dystopia, it is also a beautifully crafted eulogy for his friend and fellow songwriter Jerome "Doc" Pomus, composer of such hits as Dion and the Belmonts' "Teenager in Love" (1959) and the Drifters' "This Magic Moment" (1960). Pomus died last year, at 65, after a long bout with cancer.
Low-key but infused with a kind of moody energy, Reed's cycle of 14 new songs begins with a stentorian guitar drone that gives way to the bouncy "What's Good." In this tune Reed weakly concludes that "life is good" but "not fair at all." Classic R&B singer Little Jimmy Scott provides eerily effective background vocals on the myth-laden "Power and Glory, Part One." Otherwise it's Reed's own incantatory monotone that drives the album, from the regret-laden "No Chance" to the viciously funny "Harry's Circumcision" and the exquisitely sad "Dreamin'."
After attacking the themes of magic and loss with his customary anger and cocksureness, Reed sums up in the title song, where he sings, "There's a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out." Reed's mild side, as opposed to his infamous wild side, has rarely been this ascendant. But it's the guitar-heavy, pit-viper zeal that holds this work so wonderfully together. (Sire/Warner)