Man, that was one confusing Pitchfork review. The only negative thing Jess Harvell says about Legendary Hearts is the “new listeners … may cringe a bit at the ultra-mannered emoting on “Betrayed,” but ultimately surmises that “1983’s Legendary Hearts— which reassembles most of the Blue Mask band, swapping drummer Fred Maher for Doane Perry– is fleeter and funnier where the previous album ground down at its themes. It’s playful without being indulgent, the kind of record hardcore fans come to treasure because it proves that even their hero’s second-tier efforts, the ones that get passed over when they’re not starred in the record guides, can hide secret charms. … And then the guy slaps a 6.9 on the thing, which is a death sentence in Pitchfork‘s rating system.
As usual, though it’s hard to do, we should ignore the rating and talk about the review, because otherwise, Harvell is spot-on: I think Legendary Hearts gets the short end of the stick where The Blue Mask is involved because those reasons, “fleeter and funnier.” It’s less expansive, and thus, more divisive. It has a goofy cover. But newsflash! Music can be lighthearted and fun. To use another example in Lou Reed’s discography, maybe Loaded can be approached on its own terms instead of being a disappointment because it’s not as harrowing as the Velvet Underground’s first two records. Or, to use Robert Christgau’s words, “If The Blue Mask was a tonic, the follow-up’s a long drink of water, trading impact and intensity for the stated goal of this (final?) phase of Reed’s music: continuity, making do, the long haul.” Bingo, Bob. And if you’re problem is that it doesn’t rock enough, then I’m going to point out the hypocrisy when you praise The Velvet Underground, which rocked just as much (that is to say, very little).
Let’s talk about the first three songs, especially. In less than 9 minutes, Lou Reed touches on capital-I Important subjects in a variety of styles. The outro in “Legendary Hearts” makes clear that you need to work to keep relationships afloat (what a novel fucking concept, right?) over a lovely three-part counterpoint between Lou Reed’s vocals, Robert Quine’s guitar and Fernando Saunder’s bass that you’re going to hear a lot of for the rest of the album. “Don’t Talk To Me About Work” is him at his sassiest, strutting around as if an actual 9-5 worker over the album’s punchiest, punkiest number. Jess Harvell gives “Make My Mind,” a logical and lyrical continuation of “Legendary Hearts,” a compliment of the highest order when he writes that it’s “a ballad as tender as anything on The Velvet Underground.” Love the way Lou Reed’s voice slides naturally on the song’s hook, and when the backing vocals come in during the song’s outro, it takes the song to a slightly more hopeful place, and they aren’t as excessive as they might be on the following New Sensations. These are the album’s greatest draws.
Broadly speaking, if you’re someone who complained about Robert Quine not allowed to let loose, listen harder, because, along bassist Fernando Saunders, he’s coloring inside the lines that Lou Reed draws everywhere on this album; see especially, the prickly playing on “Turn Out the Light.” The album’s worst member is newcomer Doane Perry. Where his plodding drumming seemed to be a salute to Maureen Tucker (and worked because of it) on “Make My Mind,” every one of his beats on “Home of the Brave” feels like a pin tack, forcing the 7-minute song to feel that way (something you can’t say about most of the Velvet Underground’s longer songs), and the song just isn’t worth it to hear the pretty bridge more than once (from 3:06 to 3:58, to save you the trouble). Elsewhere, Jess Harvell was correct about Lou Reed’s over-the-topness on “Betrayed,” while the following “Bottoming Out” sounds suspiciously like “Legendary Hearts.” But “Martial Law” has the album’s most sizable riff with Quine flings notes against it to see what might happen, Reed’s conversational reading of “The Last Shot” is instantly likeable, “Pow Wow” has lovely choruses (with another important subject matter, this time about Native Americans) and “Rooftop Garden” ends the album on a romantic note after the preceding ambiguity of where that romance was headed; great bass, great reading.
All-in-all, good album. Easily one of the top 5 of his solo career. I guess if it had a concept or if it was less optimistic, people would take it more seriously, but I know music doesn’t need to have concepts or be dark to succeed.