In both his Velvet Underground and solo days, Lou Reed has explored dark themes: sex, S&M, drugs, mind trips, and the rough street life. His art has been about experiencing these things, not so much social commentary. One dark theme has not been that much of a preoccupation. In Magic and Loss, Lou switches gears and looks at life's experiences contemplatively, but focuses heavily on its end--death. This was inspired by the recent deaths by cancer of two friends and apparently also the AIDS epidemic.
The majority of songs are mellow, with soft, sweet guitar riffs, allowing us to focus on Lou's very strong lyrics. There are also five strong rockers: the opener (effectively), "What's Good"; the acoustic "Sword of Damocles"; "Warrior King"; "Gassed and Stoked"; and "Power and Glory Part II." The first two are marked by crisp, pretty definition in the rhythm guitars, smooth strokes, in contrast to the guitars in the others, which have the edge, and a bit of the fuzziness and distortion, often seen in Lou's work. "What's Good" and "Warrior King," the CD's most potent tune, are the two best songs. The softer, mostly slower songs are good too. My only problem is that there are too many of them: six of seven between the opener and "Warrior King."
There is a positive spin to Magic and Loss, witness the album title and the concluding title cut: "There's a bit of magic in everything and then some loss to even things out." Lou sees things both ways, focusing heavily on hardship and death, but also dignity.