At one point on the new Street Hassle, Lou Reed sings that “I’m not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve.” He does, though, which is one reason why the LP rates as his most poignant in years, perhaps since his days with the Velvet Underground.
Like Bruce Springsteen, who contributes a brief monologue here, Reed culls his best poetry from the lives of downtrodden street people. But whereas many of Bruce’s characters retain hope of a “promised land,” the protagonists on Street Hassle seem doomed to a life at the bottom.
Not surprisingly, then, much of this album is as depressing as it is powerful. But Reed combines his cynicism with so much affection and concern that the end result is just as often downright exhilarating. Don’t miss the 11-minute title cut, which concludes with one of my all-time favorite Reed vocals and which employs narratives and a single, hypnotic musical phrase to illuminate emotional desperation at least as well as the Velvets’ classic “Heroin.”