Tournament of Tunes: Yo La Tengo vs. Lou ReedYo La Tengo, "Sudden Organ"
Lou Reed, "Last Great American Whale"
Interesting that these two bands would face each other, given what an obvious musical debt Yo La Tengo owes to Reed's Velvet Underground. Yes, of course dozen of bands owe that debt, but Yo La Tengo (especially in its earlier days) owes more than most.
"Sudden Organ" is somewhat of a musical departure for Yo La Tengo. James McNew forgoes his bass guitar completely, switching over to keyboards where he creates an eerie, droning figure that underpins the melody (like a bass does) and even gives the song its title. But the band's other distinctive elements - Ira Kaplan's moody tenor vocals and sharp guitar, Georgia Hubley's tom-tomming, Moe Tucker-ish drumming - are all here. The song doesn't really jump out at you, but is somehow still very effective. A solid song from what remains my favorite Yo La Tengo album.
What I love most about Lou Reed's New York is its directness - the bluntness of the lyrics ("I'll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says 'It's hard to give a shit these days'", "the Statue of Bigotry", etc.) and the in-your-face instrumentation. Unfortunately, "Last Great American Whale" is the least direct song on the album, both lyrically and instrumentally. The lyrics are highly metaphorical, telling a story that despite countless listenings I've never really been able to follow. Reed's vocals are subdued, with little of the emotional fire that marks his best work. And the instrumentation is barely even there - mostly a single guitar line and basic drumbeat. Narrative 2
While it has its intriguing moments, "Last Great American Whale" is just too much of a departure - lyrically, vocally, instrumentally - from Reed's greatest work. Though it's hard for me to knock out any song from New York, this one is probably my least favorite on the album. So I'm going with "Sudden Organ."
Winner: Yo La Tengo, "Sudden Organ"