In October 1990, Lou Reed interviewed Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, president of the newly emancipated Czechoslovakia, and -- surprisingly? -- a Velvet Underground fan. During the course of their conversation, Havel handed Reed a book. "These are your lyrics, hand-printed and translated into Czechoslovakian. There were only 200 of them. They ...
In October 1990, Lou Reed interviewed Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, president of the newly emancipated Czechoslovakia, and -- surprisingly? -- a Velvet Underground fan. During the course of their conversation, Havel handed Reed a book. "These are your lyrics, hand-printed and translated into Czechoslovakian. There were only 200 of them. They were very dangerous to have. People went to jail." Nobody will go to jail for owning Between Thought and Expression, but Reed's lyrics remain dangerous -- not, as in Communist Czechoslovakia, for what they are, but for what they say. Deactivating society's most fail-safe mechanisms, he tells secrets, lifts shrouds, and, at his best, depicts a reality so harsh, so harrowing, that it becomes almost fantastical. Nobody could live like that. Nobody could love like that. And, surely, nobody could think like that. Between Thought and Expression, three discs and four hours culling Reed's own personal favorites from a then-25-year career, presents that reality without distraction. From the Velvets through to the end of the '80s, with diversions through most of the intriguing alleyways that Reed glanced down during that latter decade, the box is strongest where Reed is at his most powerful -- the inevitable sequence that ran between 1972-1974 most of all. But reevaluate Reed's '80s output and you will be pleasantly surprised, while even the nadir of Rock and Roll Heart proves salvageable. For the collectors, a handful of unreleased cuts include early versions of "Downtown Dirt" and "Leave Me Alone," plus "Here Comes the Bride" emerges a Take No Prisoners outtake that is just as much fun as the rest of that album. "America (Star Spangled Banner)" sounds uncannily like one of those '60s pop classics that punk bands used to speed up, and there's also a new live version of "Heroin," to do with what you will. Indeed, if you ignore the absence of a handful of personal favorites (and overlook the fact that anyone who doesn't already own most of them probably thinks Lou Reed is an instrument that you play in the bathroom), you've got every key track in Reed's pre-New York repertoire, with even the oft-dismissed Metal Machine Music making a 92-second cameo appearance to keep the pedants at bay. Taking Reed's career stage by stage, there are better collections than this out there -- the Legendary box that splits between his two stints on RCA for one. But as a solid overview backed by an informative, Reed-approved booklet, Between Thought and Expression readily lives up to its maker's reputation. And that of his lyrics. ~ Dave Thompson, Rovi