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Lou Reed’s 1980s pop sensation

Often considered his 'happy record,' "New Sensations" casts a light on a different side of Lou Reed without losing any of what has made him an icon.
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By Ray Chelstowski

Few artists within the world of rock have been expected to operate in as narrow a space as Lou Reed. Arguably one of the most recognizable faces of late 20th century creativity, Reed was fearless when it came to his music. He followed his own path much in the same way as Bowie, however earning fewer moments of commercial success. And yet that never seemed to be what drove him. Instead, the freedom to present whatever he felt was right at that moment was what he was really in this whole thing for anyway. Unfortunately, this didn’t deter his fans or critics for wanting his next record to be the next "Transformer." Even the commercial smash "New York" wouldn’t really satisfy that ask. The intensity of their expectation is something that is still almost impossible to comprehend— more because of how easily Reed was able to discard it. This back and forth of hope and disappointment would become the chatter that surrounded a good many of his releases. In his typical New York toughness, Reed just shouldered on.

I’ve been spending time with an album that preceded his hit record "New York." "New Sensations" is an often-overlooked gem because it flanks with "New York" one of Lou’s most widely panned records, 1986’s "Mistrial." Upon release "Mistrial" launched like a Roman candle – quick fire, fast fizzle. It’s been so largely panned that when "New York" followed three years later, critics took to their hammers again providing a round two pounding for how bad Mistrial was in comparison. This fueled a common generalization about Lou Reed – “all you need to know about Lou Reed in the '80s can be found in 'New York'.” Well, not really. "New Sensations" is as good a record as "New York," if even by small measure better.

In general this may be the most upbeat Reed has ever been in the studio. Songs, even those drenched in sarcasm and irony, are wrapped in melodies and arrangements that are bright and bouncy. A studio argument with longtime sideman Robert Quine left Reed to handle most of the guitar duties. This personnel shift allowed the album to take on a more textured approach. In turn Reed’s own choppy guitar style is given room in the back to get it’s footing, but never overpowers any of the songs.

The record begins with an almost Marshall Crenshaw-esque hopper called "I Love YouSuzanne." The song’s back beat and hand claps frame the balance of the record. This isn’t a heavy collection of tunes. It’s as close to a pure party spin as he has ever recorded. Even the title track, anchored by a Fernando Saunders punchy bass line is a real fun ride. With this album, Reed seems the most comfortable he has ever been with his spoken word style of signing. He never tries to force anything and that creates an unusual sense of ease for anyone who has spent time with Lou Reed’s music. In turn some songs become almost hypnotic.

As with every Lou Reed record, his beloved city of "New York" remains his muse. Songs all find a way of street checking locations across the city. In the end, that might be what defines this record best. Often considered his 'happy record,' "New Sensations" casts a light on a different side of Lou Reed without losing any of what has made him an icon. Consider this that musical moment when he actually smiled for the camera, and we smiled back.

Below is the value of the aforementioned album in Near Mint (NM) condition, according to Goldmine’s Record Album Price Guide, 9th Edition. Note: As a standard rule, a vinyl record in VG+ condition is 50% of NM value and VG record is 25% NM value.

❑ AFL1-4998 New Sensations 1984 $10.00

The 12-Inch singles
❑ JR-13849 [DJ Promo] I Love You, Suzanne (same on both sides) 1984 $7.00
❑ PD-13928 My Red Joystick (remix) (instrumental)/I Love You Suzanne 1984 $12.00