Revolving around drug addiction and depression-like many of Reed’s records, Berlin is more of a sluggish delivery but is almost ornate during the trudge. Following Transformer and the mostly rock-based undertones that filled that record, Berlin is the hangover, it’s the withdrawal from the raging night before.
Opening with “Berlin,” the curtain peels back on two lovers, Jim and Caroline who instead of following the pattern of Reed’s writing where characters appear for only a verse and disappear; Berlin follows the life and death of love. After waves of sound and walls of distortion drown out, only a gentle piano from Allan Macmillan and Reed can be heard in a somber, but reminiscent tone. He describes, “In Berlin, by the wall, you were five foot, ten inches tall. It was very nice, candlelight and Dubonnet on ice.”
As Reed continues, the music instead of picking up is focused on these major chord strikes that instead of comforting, actually illustrate a sense of panic that churns into “Lady Day.” With a catchy instrumental and hook, “Lady Day” is best performed under one single spotlight that resonates with the audience on-looking toward Reed for his tragic hero delivery. Berlin is able to both simultaneously enthrall and emotionally capture, but then in the same swing can wash the audience with razor-esque cuts of seeping misery.
While there were no real commercial hits through Berlin, “How Do You Think It Feels” is one of the tracks off the record that could be accompanied to a live performance where Reed can unleash this animalistic attitude. Telling of an addiction to speed, Reed illustrates, “How do you think it feels when you’re speeding and lonely. How do you think it feels when all you can say is ‘if only.’”
While Berlin is fictional storytelling in operatic fashion, Reed’s way of lyrical storytelling and description is passionately vivid and feels personal to a pain known too closely. He illustrates later on, “How do you think it feels when you’ve been up for five days. Hunting around always, ’cause you’re afraid of sleeping.”
Where the final roses being thrown is on “The Bed,” far after the love affair of Jim and Caroline ends. Similar to how the tale begins, only Reed is the focus of interest. He describes a horror show of suicide, memories being broken, and almost bordering on the fact of reality. At first, it becomes over-the-top with lyrics that describe, “And this is the room where she took the razor, and cut her wrists that strange and fateful night.” But as Reed continues on, the work of Berlin and “The Bed” especially is actually numb and comes from a narrator in disbelief.
With ghastly heartbreak, Reed finds a home in Berlin and honestly is more poetic than Rock ‘N Roll anti-hero here. Where tears hit vinyl, Berlin is still one of the records that changed minds about the unearthing of ancient bleeding onto the stings.