When Lou Reed hits the Orpheum Theatre next Saturday night, it wonít be part of a belated attempt to rekindle interest in The Raven (Sire), the ambitious ó if pretentious ó album inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe that he released in January to a less than overwhelming commercial response. In fact, if weíre lucky, Reedís set list for the current tour will ignore The Raven altogether, drawing instead on NYC Man: The Ultimate Lou Reed Collection (RCA), a new two-CD career retrospective. Although NYC Man opens with a outtake from The Raven ó a song called " Who Am I " that doesnít appear to be tied into the works of Poe ó the other 30 tracks amount to a greatest-hits set, touching on Reedís career highlights from Velvet Underground classics ( " Sweet Jane " and " Rock & Roll " ) to live cuts from Rock N Roll Animal and Take No Prisoners to solo album cuts from The Blue Mask, Transformer, and New York.
Reed himself prefers not to think of NYC Man as a greatest-hits package. For him, the disc represents the first time any of this material has been presented properly since the advent of CDs. " Maybe you noticed that the sound is really good, " he says when I reach him by phone at a tour stop in Spain. " Essentially I was offered the opportunity to put together an album of material from the Velvet Underground on up where I could sequence it, pick the tracks, and be in charge of the sound. It was a great opportunity because, not to bore you, but the technology has gotten so much better that you can make a CD sound, in my opinion, as good as an analog album and maybe even better. Itís all in the mastering ó in the transfer to the digital CD. The original tapes that people record on have a lot of information on there. And the initial CDs sounded really rotten because a lot of that information was lost. But over the years, itís gotten a lot better. So I had the opportunity to go track by track, get the best possible sound, and fix certain things like the foot pedal on ĎConey Island Baby,í which has bothered me for years. It just sounded kind of clicky. I donít know if we ran out of time or we just didnít notice it, but it just doesnít sound right. "
Unlike Iggy Pop, who took the unprecedented step of remixing the Stooges classic Raw Power for a Columbia/Legacy reissue, Reed took a less radical approach to improving the sound quality of his classics. " I didnít want to remix any of these songs because theyíre of a certain mindset. Having said that, you can certainly master the shit out of a track and take care of things like that foot pedal, or bring the background vocals up a bit to put some shimmer in there. And thatís what the whole thing is. Track after track is like that. For instance, with ĎIím Waiting for My Man,í on all the CDs where it has that song, when [John] Cale is pounding away at the piano, you donít feel it. But on this version, you will. And if the guy is going to pound away on the piano like that, you ought to feel it. On the vinyl you could feel it. Thatís why for years people have been saying they like vinyl better than digital, because nobody has taken the time to do it right. And thatís why itís not a greatest-hits album per se. "
Lou Reed plays the Orpheum, 1 Hamilton Place, next Saturday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $31 to $48.50; call (617) 931-2000.