Lou Reed is a rock legend. The singer-songwriter co-founded the Velvet Underground in the 1960s–a band that could be considered a jumping off point for virtually every left-field genre of rock music that came after. Reed’s songs about junkies and prostitutes were starkly minimalist musically–from the songwriting to the instrumentation. In a new piece for TheTalkHouse, Reed has offered a thoughtful critique of Kanye West and his new album Yeezus, a project that is already arguably the most talked-about major release of the year.
“The guy has a real wide palette to play with,” Reed says. “That’s all over Yeezus. There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old s–t. But the guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”
“People say this album is minimal. And yeah, it’s minimal. But the parts are maximal. Take ‘Blood on the Leaves.’ There’s a lot going on there: horns, piano, bass, drums, electronic effects, all rhythmically matched — towards the end of the track, there’s now twice as much sonic material. But Kanye stays unmoved while this mountain of sound grows around him. Such an enormous amount of work went into making this album. Each track is like making a movie.”
“Actually, the whole album is like a movie, or a novel — each track segues into the next. This is not individual tracks sitting on their own island, all alone.”
“Many lyrics seem like the same old b.s. Maybe because he made up so much of it at the last minute,” Reed continues. “But it’s the energy behind it, the aggression. Usually the Kanye lyrics I like are funny, and he’s very funny here. Although he thinks that getting head from nuns and eating Asian p—y with sweet and sour sauce is funny, and it might be, to a 14-year-old — but it has nothing to do with me. Then there’s the obligatory endless blowjobs and menages-a-trois.”
“But it’s just ridiculous that people are getting upset about [lyrics like] ‘Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign?’ C’mon, he’s just having fun. That’s no more serious than if he said he’s going to drop a bomb on the Vatican. How can you take that seriously?”
“The juxtaposition of vocal tones on ‘Blood on the Leaves’ is incredible — that pitched-up sample of Nina Simone singing ‘Strange Fruit’ doing a call-and-response with Kanye’s very relaxed Autotuned voice. That is fascinating, aurally, nothing short of spectacular. And holy s–t, it’s so gorgeous rhythmically, where sometimes the vocal parts are matched and sometimes they clash. He’s so sad in this song. He’s surrounded by everyone except the one he wants — he had this love ripped away from him, before he even knew it. ‘I know there ain’t nothing wrong with me… something strange is happening.’ Well, surprise, surprise — welcome to the real world, Kanye.”
“Sometimes it’s like a synth orchestra. I’ve never heard anything like it — I’ve heard people try to do it but no way, it just comes out tacky. Kanye is there. It’s like his video for ‘Runaway,’ with the ballet dancers — it was like, look out, this guy is making connections. You could bring one into the other — ballet into hip-hop — they’re not actually contradictory, and he knew that, he could see it immediately. He obviously can hear that all styles are the same, somewhere deep in their heart, there’s a connection. It’s all the same s–t, it’s all music — that’s what makes him great. If you like sound, listen to what he’s giving you. Majestic and inspiring.”