Record Machine: New Sensations by Lou Reed

When Lou Reed died late last year, I confessed that I did not own any of his albums on vinyl, but I’ve since rectified that gap in my collection with the recent purchase of New Sensations.

Lou Reed - New Sensations

From 1984, New Sensations has one of my All-Time Favorite Songs, “I Love You, Suzanne.” With the opening line, “You broke my heart and you made me cry,” Reed sets the tone for what is essentially an unwilling break-up record.

You do anything once
You try anything twice
You do what you gotta do
Hey but I love you, Suzanne

Reed was the sort to bring literary stories to a rock album, so although one’s temptation is to assume that songwriting and poetry are creative nonfiction, this was likely not the case here. In 1980, he married designer Sylvia Morales, and they stayed together for over a decade. Though previously he had claimed to be gay, the press had suddenly decided that, because of his marriage, he was “openly heterosexual.”

(I’d say, Oh, the ’80s, when people forgot that bisexuality is also an orientation, but it’s not like 2014 has improved by leaps and bounds, has it?)

As characters and stories go, New Sensations is a good one, and what is interesting about the album as a whole is how upbeat it sounds, despite its subject matter. It is a man trying to move on and trying to feel better, and the title track is beautifully written.

I want the principles of a timeless muse
I want to eradicate my negative views
And get rid of those people who are always on a down

It’s enough to tell what is wrong
But that’s not what I want to hear all night long
Some people are like human tuinals

Tuinal is a sedative barbiturate manufactured since the late 1940s, though it became recreationally popular from the ’60s through the ’80s. Considering the musical time in which Reed came up, it’s the perfect reference.

Side B is Reed’s character considering life, post-divorce. He reaches rebirth at the point of “Fly Into The Sun”:

The earth is weeping
The sky is shaking
The stars split to their core
And every proton
And unnamed neutron
is fusing in my bones
And an unnamed mammal
is darkly rising
As man burns from his tomb
And I look at this blissful moment
to fly into the sun

Yes, I’ve used the bulk of this week’s Record Machine to quote Lou Reed directly, but I think it’s important to see how much he had going on in his songwriting. This was not a man overly concerned with reception; he was man looking to creatively fulfill himself and to bring the world something new. A song like “High in the City” could’ve been a Nico droner, but instead he had cheerful backing vocals and steel drums, of all things. By the end of New Sensations, his character has built up his defenses, and he is convincing himself that he’s better off: “And I really think I’ve got it made.”

New Sensations is an excellent start to my Lou Reed vinyl collection, and may I add to it with little difficulty.

Lou Reed - New Sensations (lyrics)

Side A:

I Love You, Suzanne
Endlessly Jealous
My Red Joystick
Turn to Me
New Sensations

Side B:

Doin’ The Things That We Want To
What Becomes a Legend Most
Fly Into The Sun
My Friend George
Down At The Arcade

Lou Reed - New Sensations (back)

Published by

Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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