I remember when I first heard this album, many years ago now, thinking that Lou had produced some real stinkers over the years but that this album stank to high heaven! Leaving aside the title track, which I thought was one of the best things Lou had ever accomplished in his erratic solo career, I could not see the appeal of the rest of the album which seemed to consist of a bunch of poorly recorded, poorly played and poorly sung material, musically ramshackle and lyrically braindead. Then it hit me, that this was precisely Lou's intention, this was Lou's response to punk rock and this was Lou showing that he could be ten times more ...shambolic than any punk band! Guess what, now I think this is one of Lou's greatest albums!!
You know you're in for a Laugh Riot from the opening seconds of the very first track when Lou shamelessly retreads the "Sweet Jane" riff for nth time and even starts singing the "Standing on the corner..." lyrics only for another Lou to start commenting bitchily in the most [feminine] Times Square voice imaginable on the lyrics. And even though Lou sings much of the song in that bizarre high-pitched yelp which ruined most of "The Bells", the song is still oddly catchy.
Next up is "Dirt" and incredibly vindictive and childish verbal assault on Lou's old manager Dennis Katz which makes even Dylan's nastiest songs sound like love letters. This is set to a shambling mess of a backing track which falls apart just when you think it might be about to coalesce into something approaching a proper riff. I love it!
Like a shining oasis in a desert of aural sludge stands "Street Hassle" itself. This is without doubt one the major achievements of Lou's entire career, and that includes The Velvets. Lyrically, I don't think he's ever been better, for once Lou actually lives up to his own hype - I cannot think of another rock `n' roll lyricist who could have pulled off this combination of sleaze, sadness, cruelty, beauty, ugliness, passion AND dispassion, and that includes Dylan and Lennon and any other great you may care to mention. Not only that, but musically Lou really hits the nail square on the head with a brilliantly imaginative arrangement of what is basically another one of Lou's numerous two-chord tricks. Scored for guitars, bass (all played by Lou), cellos (a masterstroke), some keyboards and female backing vocals - the arrangement seems to make explicit the connections between Lou, The Velvets and that special form of minimalism produced by the New York avant-garde (Reich, Glass etc). Brilliant.
Then Lou goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with the scurrilous "I Wanna Be Black". Musically this is a desultory attempt at being "jazzy", lyrically it is entirely reprehensible of course but also excruciatingly funny AND true!
Lou disinters the old Velvet's chestnut "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together" and then ritually disembowels it - removing all the rockin' rhythm of the original and replacing it with a shimmering haze of tremoled guitars, making me wonder whether Lou hadn't been listening closely to Alan Vega and Suicide. Towards the end of the song Lou fades in a blustering, lunk-headed, concrete-booted live version - crazy arrangement, crazy guy.
"Shooting Star" is a another live track, Lou recycles the same three chords he's used in a million other songs and overlays some tuneless soloing. It shouldn't work, it should NOT work but it does!
Next up is one of my faves, "Leave Me Alone". Lou sings like a mental patient on some particularly bizarre course of medication over a club-footed stomp of a rhythm and a riff so [bad] even the Troggs would have turned it down as being too unsophisticated. Sheer genius!
Unfortunately the album dribbles out with the ... 50's pastiche "Wait" but, all in all, this is one Lou's best and funniest albums.