Lou Reed may not be everyone's cup of tea, but those who have warmed to his flat, half-spoken singing, terse guitar playing and the poetic insights that have typified his style since the early eighties could do little better than to own a copy of "Legendary Hearts" (1983). This is Lou Reed at his most focused: newly sober and reveling in his ability to write and play about his personal experiences in such a direct, conversational manner that it seems as though he is a very good friend who has come over for an evening and is telling you about what he's been going through lately.
Confessional writing is a tricky thing in that it can be embarassing for the artist if done poorly and can indulge a listener's most voyeuristic tendencies even when done well. It is Reed's sense of humility in many of these songs, though, that saves them from bathos. Some of his best writing is to be found here, specifically the title track, which nails a profound (really, I'm not kidding, it's profound) truth about love and the way we see ourselves, all of which is accomplished in three and a half minutes. Much of the self-reflection found on this album came as the result of therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous; anyone who has ever invested time in either will find something familiar in "Make Up My Mind," "The Last Shot," "Betrayed" and "Bottoming Out," the last of which takes a pass at self-destruction and anger with a clear-eyed poise that few songwriters (or the rest of us, for that matter) can manage.
These are heavy subjects, make no mistake, but the tight ensemble playing (two guitars, drums and Fernando Saunders' singing fretless bass lines) makes the best of these songs move so that you can tap your foot while Reed is passing on his little revelations. (One thinks that Phil Spector would be proud, too: the way the album is mixed, it's almost in mono, which gives the songs quite a punch.) Songwriters who aim for depth within the confines of the rock song take note: "Legendary Hearts" is a model of precision, both well-observed and heartfelt. Put it on and turn it up - it may give you something to think about.