With 1982's The Blue Mask, Lou Reed began approaching more mature and challenging themes in his music, and in 1992, Reed decided it was time to tackle the Most Serious Theme of All -- Death. Reed lost two close friends to cancer within the space of a year, and the experience informed Magic and Loss, a set of 14 songs about loss, illness, and mortality. It would have been easy for a project like this to sound morbid, but Reed avoids that; the emotions that dominate these songs are fear and helplessness in the face of a disease (and a fate) not fully understood, and Reed's songs struggle to balance these anxieties with bravery, humor, and an understanding of the notion that death is an inevitable part of life -- that you can't have the magic without the loss. It's obvious that Reed worked on this material with great care, and Magic and Loss contains some of his most intelligent and emotionally intense work as a lyricist. However, Reed hits many of the same themes over and over again, and while Reed and his accompanists -- guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Rob Wasserman, and percussionist Michael Blair -- approach the music with skill and impeccable chops, many of these songs are a bit samey; the album's most memorable tunes are the ones that pull it out of its mid-tempo rut, like the grooving "What's Good" and the guitar workout "Gassed and Stoked." Magic and Loss is an intensely heartfelt piece of music, possessing a taste and subtlety one might never have expected from Reed, but its good taste almost works against it; it's a sincere bit of public mourning, but perhaps a more rousing wake might have been a more meaningful tribute to the departed.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming