Lou Reed
Set the Twilight Reeling
Warner Bros.

Because he is who he is, Lou Reed has managed to elevate his relatively patchy solo output to near legendary status. For every misfire in his 24-year post-Velvet Underground career (1976's toothless Rock and Roll Heart and 1980's poorly conceived Growing Up in Public are two undisputed low points), there has been enough scattered brilliance (1978's Street Hassle, the 1984 "comeback" release, New Sensations, 1992's darkly masterful Magic and Loss) to ward off periodic testimonials to Reed's impending creative exhaustion. His willfully alternative character traits, wholly original take on existence and weathered psyche have always carried Reed in the face of his musical shortcomings -- i.e. stiff guitar playing, half-assed melodies and a semi-atonal sung/spoken vocal style that, for better or worse, has become his trademark.

Barring 1986's tacky, synth-soaked slip-up Mistrial, Reed has been on a nice roll for more than a decade, pumping out a string of releases, beginning with 1982's The Blue Mask, that rank as his strongest work since the Velvets. Set the Twilight Reeling keeps that streak intact, while at the same time yanking Reed out of a draining pattern of song-cycles that could have easily stumbled into brooding predictability. Twilight opens on a light note as, in "Egg Cream," Reed talks up the virtues of his favorite drink over fractured guitar licks and a laconic rhythm. The song sets a cozy, personal tone for the CD, which generally proceeds, in typical Reed-ian fashion, down a less lighthearted path, touching on the various psychoses, marginal characters and twisted mini-dramas that fill the streets of New York City, Reed's home. But Twilight's more personal perspective is, with a few exceptions, missing the cold sense of impending doom that figured so heavily on 1989's New York and Magic and Loss. On songs such as "NYC Man," "The Proposition" and the title track, Reed views himself and his favorite narrative environment with a welcome degree of acceptance and, in some instances, even pride. Feelings of compassion and affection -- rather than cynicism and hopelessness -- bubble to the surface of Set the Twilight Reeling, making it Reed's most vibrant release of the '90s. -- Hobart Rowland

The Goops

Someone must have advised Goops vocalist Eleanor Whitledge to sing with the force of Courtney Love and the sensuality of Debbie Harry. Slightly confused, Whitledge got it backward, leaving us with Lucky, a fairly predictable collection of '80s new wave-ish power pop disguised by a distinctly '90s set of sensibilities. The Goops earned modest fame last year with a low-impact remake of "Build Me Up Buttercup" from the movie Mallrats, and their latest looks to capitalize on that success with the same tired formula: a basic punk attack led by sneering, socially relevant lyrics that aim to keep you thinking while you thrash. Some of the tunes stand out as mildly catchy ("Hard Candy," "You Wish") but are so shameless in their use of stale vocal and verbal motifs that it's hard to grant them their occasional attempts at irony. Funny how much the band improves when Whitledge steps aside for the CD's final track, "Cut the Rug," which is sung by an unidentified band member.

For all its attempts at relevance, Lucky ends up exploiting '90s alternative's most obvious connections to the watery new wave Top 40 of 15 years ago, offering remedial songs that lament the societal wrongs that make it difficult for a mediocre band to get a fair shake in this world. -- Gerard Choucroun

The Goops perform Tuesday, March 26, at Deep Phat.

Various Artists
It Came from Memphis

With It Came from Memphis, Robert Gordon has written what is arguably the best book ever about music, race relations, urban dynamics and professional wrestling. Gordon's knowledge of the history of his town's recording industry (he's a Memphis native) is encyclopedic, so it's even better that his weird, wonderful book is accompanied by a mind-blowing CD. Both text and musical tracks seem to say, "Never mind Elvis. Let me show you my town's really cool stuff."

The sequencing of It Came from Memphis shouldn't work, but it does. One highlight is Mud Boy and the Neutrons' "Money Talks"; rock and roll has seldom been as up-front about paying its dues to the blues. The song shows why, on one occasion, a riot ensued when the cops pulled the plug on the band. This is raw, gritty, in-the-streets rock. Seeing as how Mud Boy vocalist Sid Selvidge reveres the old Lomax tapes of field hollers, it makes perfect sense to follow "Money Talks" with a pre-World War II field recording of Moses Williams performing "Which Way Did My Baby Go?" And the CD only gets better from there.

Perhaps a neighbor of mine said it best when, after listening to Ross Johnson's deranged raving on "Wet Bar," he uttered, "You can't top that," and headed out the door. Turns out my neighbor spoke a little too soon; he should have stuck around for "Frank, This Is It." -- Jim Sherman

Various Artists
Cat Compilation II

With Cat Compilation II, Control-Alt-Delete has assembled one of the most comprehensive synth-pop compilations in recent years. Jeri Beck, a.k.a. the Cat, is the force behind this superb CD, which includes songs by a wide variety of American synth-pop heavyweights -- everyone from Information Society to Anything Box, along with unique solo material from the latter's Dania and Claude S. Other up-and-coming synth bands on this collection include Release, Division of Beat, Cosmicity and Turning Keys. Dallas' Channel 69 contributes "Listen to Me," and Houston's own Machine in Motion offer "House Not Made with Hands," which is reminiscent of vintage Information Society. The CD's highlight is the catchy and danceable "Annie, Would I Lie to You" from newcomers Forgiving Iris. For those '80s nostalgia types always searching out the best retro night at Houston clubs, Cat Compilation II will service your Sunday morning hangovers just fine. -- Alan Quaintance

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Gerard Choucroun
Alan Quaintance
Hobart Rowland
Jim Sherman