I can't remember exactly when I first heard 'The Blue Mask'. It must have been at some point though between '84 and '86. I had first become interested in Lou Reed two terms into my first year at university , when I borrowed the first volume of the 'Velvet Underground Live in 1969' from an Edinburgh record library. Over the course of those next two years, it became something of an obsession for me to buy or to tape (from the same and other record libraries) as many of his and the Velvet Underground's albums as possible. By the time I graduated still hooked in mid '86, I owned the then almost complete works, and had nearly twenty five of them.

'The Blue Mask' was released in early 1982 during a relatively stable period in Reed's life. After spending much of the 70's in a musically mediocre haze abusing himself with alcohol and drugs, and recording post 1974, as his twin addictions became worse, a whole string of patchy and not-terribly-good albums, Reed had begun to straighten himself out in the early 80's. He had married Sylvia Morales on Valentine's Day in 1980 ; started to attend Alcoholics' Anonymous and negotiated a second contract with the record giants, RCA, with whom he had fallen out with in spectacular fashion, after releasing the atonal and infamously unlistenable electronic double album 'Metal Machine Music' in 1975. He had begun also to work with a tight new backing band, which included former Voidod guitarist, Robert Quine and eclectic bassist, Fernando Saunders, and, after some years of using a keyboard as a central instrument, had rediscovered an interest in his original love of the guitar.

Any Lou Reed album is rarely an easy option, often telling bleakly of life in the raw, and 'The Blue Mask', originally to be titled 'Heaven and Hell', is no exception. The title track, with churning feedback-strewn guitar work from Quine and barked-out vocals from Reed, tells of the sado-masochistic, destructive relationship between two lovers. The disturbing 'The Gun' is written from the deranged perspective of a potential murderer and rapist, while both 'Underneath the Bottle' and 'Waves of Fear' show Reed at his most pitiful and pathetic, suffering anxiety attacks and black outs after having been on drinking binges.

Yet 'The Blue Mask', the most nakedly open and autobiographical of all Reed's albums, is a surprisingly optimistic and life-affirming record, telling of a man, who has screwed up badly in his past , trying to readdress and exorcise his demons through his new marriage and his writings.

The tranquil, starkly beautiful opening number 'My House' finds Reed taking simple pleasure in his second home in Jersey, and conjuring up with great joy on an Ouija Board his one-time mentor, the long dead writer Delmore Schwartz. 'Women' (in which the bisexual Reed, who for a time in the 7O's lived with a male-to-female transsexual, concludes that women are "great"), 'The Heroine' and 'Heavenly Arms' are all love poems to Sylvia. 'The Day John Kennedy Died' is a cloying, but nevertheless heartfelt tribute twenty years on to the passing of America's favourite son, and has Reed, never until then the most compassionate and patriotic of men, dreaming that, as the President of the United States , he is able to wipe out and replace "ignorance, stupidity and hate". The comical 'Average Guy' meanwhile in contrast has the distinctly unordinary Mr Reed concluding that he is just an average guy.

'The Blue Mask' would in many ways prove to be something of false trip and not have a happy ending. Lou and Sylvia Reed would break up acrimonously in the mid nineties. It, however, captures an important musician at a unique point in his career, and finds him at a turning point, moving away from a darkness which , with the possible exception of 2000's post-divorce written and frankly awful 'Ecstasy', he would never embrace with quite the same degree of intensity and level of self-destructiveness again.

There are other albums by Reed- 1969's 'The Velvet Underground' and 1973's orchestral tale of suicide, 'Berlin ' - which I have listened to in the past more. As I get older though, and move into my late 30's, like Reed, who was 40 at the time 'The Blue Mask' was recorded, I realise more and more , simply in order to survive in an often bleak world, how important it is to look for the good as well as the bad, to concentrate on the positive as well as the negative. For that simple reason alone this album by possibly my favourite artist of all time seems as good a nominee for my Favourite Album as any other.











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