"When a famous rock star dies, there’s a natural tendency among fans and journalists alike to overstate the late figure’s importance: the former out of grief, the latter because it makes better copy. In Lou Reed’s case, that’s almost impossible to do, just as it’s almost impossible to imagine what rock music might sound like had the Velvet Underground never existed.
Elvis, Beatles and Dylan fans might be wont to disagree, but there’s a compelling argument that their 1967 debut The Velvet Underground And Nico is the single most influential album in rock history. Certainly, it’s hard to think of another record that altered the sound and vocabulary of rock so dramatically, that shifted its parameters so far at a stroke. Vast tranches of subsequent pop music exist entirely in its shadow: it’s possible that glam rock, punk, and everything that comes loosely bracketed under the terms indie and alt-rock might have happened without it, but it’s hard to see how.”
"You could tell from that first album alone that Reed was a bundle of contradictions: the man who wrote a ballad as straightforwardly beautiful as Femme Fatale was the same one that came up with Heroin, with its complex, amoral narrator and its astonishing lurches into howling sonic chaos.
He got more contradictory as his career went on. On the one hand, he embodied a certain kind of rock and roll attitude. The face he presented to the world, at least in interviews, was endlessly combative, contemptuous and taciturn and you could often see that reflected in his music: the four gruelling songs that make up side two of his 1973 concept album Berlin are quite astonishing expressions of coldness and cruelty.
On the other, he could write songs that were impossibly moving, that spoke of a tenderness and sensitivity: the lambent, peerless Pale Blue Eyes; Halloween Parade’s heartbreaking lament for New York’s gay community, devastated by Aids; his meditation on death, Magic And Loss. He was, when the mood took him, capable of writing perfect pop songs; he was equally capable of coming up with Metal Machine Music, his infamous 1975 double album of screaming noise, still the benchmark by which all musical screw-yous must be judged and are usually found wanting. Each side of his character inspired boundless numbers of copyists. It goes without saying that none of them were really like him at all. As it turned out, one of the most imitated artists in rock history was entirely inimitable.”
Alexis Petridis | The Guardian