The Blue Mask from 1982 has passed the test of time with flying hues of blue. The varied material takes the listener from domestic bliss on My House which is also a tribute to the poet Delmore Schwarz
("I've really got a lucky life/My writing, my motorcycle and my wife") and the long, slow rumination titled Women, to extreme panic and paranoia ("I cringe at my terror/I hate my own smell/I know where I must be/I must be in hell") on Waves Of Fear.
Musically, the first four tracks follow a mid- or down-tempo rock ballad pattern. Then, the feedback on the title track introduces a maelstrom of edgy drumming, roaring and squalling guitars and Reed's intense delivery of a dark, oedipal rant about punishment and pain. There's up-tempo driving rock on Average Guy, a majestic melodious wall of sound of Waves of Fear, a tender, yearning ballad about John Kennedy and the tuneful, stirring love song Heavenly Arms.
This album revisits many of the themes that had inspired Reed from the start of his career with the Velvet Underground
: His mentor, Delmore Schwartz is invoked on the opening track, reminding the listener of the Velvets' European Son (to Delmore), while Underneath The Bottle, a harrowing account of a struggle with alcohol, brings to mind an earlier song The Power Of Positive Drinking from the album Growing Up In Public
, whilst the beautiful Heavenly Arms with its gorgeous cascading vocals is not too far removed from Satellite Of Love on Transformer
The approach is different, however: gone is the decadent, sometimes snarling narrator of the demi-monde, and instead Reed turns into an essayist or reporter writing and singing with admirable maturity but still passionately about subjects as diverse as women, gun violence and the day John Kennedy died.
The guitars of Reed and Quine, the bass and the drums work perfectly together, whether on the slow numbers or on the more intense rockers like Waves of Fear or the title track. Best of all, the melodies are strong and memorable and the arrangements are innovative. The Blue Mask is a true masterpiece.