This one reminds me of Ornette Coleman’s Virgin Beauty; two albums that are the most accessible albums from artists that were known for how inaccessible they were (in Lou Reed’s case, I mean his work with the Velvet Underground); two albums that sound of their time; two albums that are decent despite that, whereas most of their contemporaries failed as they flung themselves at 80s’ production techniques.
Indeed, after regaining his reputation with The Blue Mask and the underrated Legendary Hearts (though not commercially, of course), New Sensation does what Lou Reed has been doing his entire career: complete reinvention (a recap: how better to follow the glam pop of Transformer than with the depressing Berlin; how better to follow his highest charting Sally Can’t Dance than with Metal Machine Music; etc.); Robert Quine is gone, so Reed decides to handle the guitar parts himself, and, knowing that he isn’t as great as Quine on guitar, he hires gospel choirs, ups the bass to match whatever’s playing on MTV and the radio, and lets Fred Maher play with drum machines.
And both contain one great song. Here, it’s “I Love You, Suzanne,” which sees Lou Reed’s loveable vocal inflections that made him one of the best singers (an active laziness if you will; “I love you when you’re ba-ha-had”) over big, booming drums (love when Fred Maher decides to not let the machine have all the fun; ie. slamming the cymbal at the 1:00 mark and the 1:35 mark), a constantly moving bass and super-melodic guitar solos. Oh, and non-stop handclaps; you can actually picture Lou and woman in the title dancing. Elsewhere, “New Sensations” is next best, with a bass melody so thick and kinetic that you can understand Lou Reed’s love for his motorcycle even if you’ve never been on one / have no intention of riding them yourself.
But the rest of the album is listenable at best (ie. “Endlessly Jealous” and “Doin’ the Things That We Want To,” even though the latter plays its hand halfway through when it reaches its ceiling and proceeds to go nowhere) to annoying (ie. “Turn To Me” because of its gospel choirs, the plod-to-its-80s-climax of “What Becomes a Legend Most,” and “Down At The Arcade,” where Lou Reed sounds like he’s singing the hook while chewing a huge wad of gum). Here’s what Jeremy Reed had to say about “I Love You, Suzanne,” which is better fit to describe the songs on the album not named “I Love You Suzanne”: “Lou sounds on sanitised remote, as though every questionably decadent aspect of his personality was sponged by anti-viral wipes to substantiate a claim for admission into the rock hierarchy.”
All that being said, when he namechecks Sam Shepard at the beginning of “Doin’ the Things That We Want To,” I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s Knocked Out Loaded (where Dylan worked with Shepard), and I’m reminded that New Sensations is better than any of Bob Dylan’s 80s-sounding 80s’ albums (basically, any 80s’ albums not named Oh Mercy).
(That being said, Mistrial might be worse than Knocked Out Loaded, and that one’s right ’round the corner.)