The Blue Mask
|The Blue Mask|
|Studio album by|
|Released||February 23, 1982|
|Studio||RCA Studios, New York City|
|Lou Reed chronology|
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||9/10|
The Blue Mask is the eleventh solo studio album by American musician Lou Reed. It was the first album released after Reed had left Arista Records and returned to RCA Records. The album was released around Reed's 40th birthday, and covers topics of marriage and settling down, alongside themes of violence, paranoia, and alcoholism.
Production and recording
Reed and Robert Quine's guitars were mixed separately in the right and left stereo channels respectively. To differentiate his guitar's sound from Reed's, Quine used D tuning, playing each song as if it was one major second higher. For example, "Heavenly Arms" is in G major, so Quine used fingerings for A major to play the song.
Quine, who years earlier followed the Velvet Underground across the country and taped several of their early shows (they were later released as Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes), made for a suitable complement to Reed. Quine also toured in support of the album and can be seen on the recorded The Bottom Line show titled A Night with Lou Reed. Quine later described the album as, "a record that I'm particularly proud of. We had never played together before going into the studio. There were no rehearsals and most of it was done in one or two takes. I like all the things that I've done with Lou but that will always be special for me." Quine and Reed share the distinction of being named to Rolling Stone's Top 100 Guitarists of All-Time List.
Fernando Saunders, who subsequently became a longtime Reed collaborator, plays the bass and adds backing vocals (most noticeably, a falsetto refrain in the outro to "Heavenly Arms") to this album and can also be seen in A Night with Lou Reed. Saunders later said, "it was like a dream come true. Lou wanted me to play the things no one would ever let me play, the things I would sit in my bedroom and play. Suddenly I was glad I hadn't quit music for my uncle's insurance company."
The album contains no instrumental overdubs with the exception of Reed's guitar on "My House", but all vocals were overdubbed with the exception of "The Heroine". The drummer for the album was studio musician Doane Perry, who later joined Jethro Tull.
In 2000, a remastered version of The Blue Mask was released.
Robert Palmer of The New York Times hailed it as the year's "most outstanding rock album," writing that Reed had finally matched the "hard, thoughtful, unflinching songs" of the Velvet Underground's groundbreaking debut from 1967. He also praised the musicianship, particularly Reed and Quine's guitar work, writing that they "interact with a sort of empathy and lucidity one expects from a seasoned jazz combo and the music always reaches out to invite the listener in, even at its most intensely personal level."
Robert Christgau of The Village Voice initially gave The Blue Mask an A+ rating: "Never has Lou sounded more Ginsbergian, more let-it-all-hang-out than on this, his most controlled, plainspoken, deeply felt, and uninhibited album...he sounds glad to be alive, so that horror and pain become occasions for courage and eloquence as well as bitterness and sarcasm." Christgau also praised the musicianship, writing that "Reed's voice - precise, conversational, stirring whether offhand or inspirational - sings his love of language itself, with Fernando Saunders's bass articulating his tenderness and the guitars of Robert Quine and Reed himself fleshing out the terrible beauty he's borne."
Ira Robbins of Trouser Press praised the album as "a triumphant success" with "some of Reed’s strongest writing in years. The portraits he paints are miserable characters living outside society; it’s not clear whether or not they’re fictional."
NME said, "What made The Blue Mask Lou Reed’s watershed album was his choice of musicians, a new wave super-set of them – Fernando Saunders on bass, Doane Perry on drums, and the legendary Robert Quine on guitar.
Alternately, Barney Hoskyns criticized the album for a "smarmy self-satisfaction that said: 'I may have been a bit of a jerk when I strutted around on stage with a needle in my arm, but I am now a bona fide Artist and you will treat me as such.'"
In a retrospective appraisal, Jess Harvell of Pitchfork praised Quine's "virtuoso blend of post-Reed skronk and speed-folkie melodicism" and wrote that "The Blue Mask is still the one to slot alongside Transformer and Street Hassle. The album realigned Reed with the punk and new/no wave movements he helped sire, and it was helped into the canon by Reed's strongest (and most heart-wrenching) batch of songs in years."
All songs written by Lou Reed
- Side one
- "My House" - 5:25
- "Women" - 4:57
- "Underneath the Bottle" - 2:33
- "The Gun" - 3:41
- "The Blue Mask" - 5:06
- Side two
- "Average Guy" - 3:12
- "The Heroine" - 3:06
- "Waves of Fear" - 4:11
- "The Day John Kennedy Died" - 4:08
- "Heavenly Arms" - 4:47
- Lou Reed – guitar, vocals
- Robert Quine – guitar
- Fernando Saunders – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Doane Perry – drums
- Sean Fullan – recording engineer, co-producer
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