The lilting rocker Gimme Some Good Times opens the album with a series of sarcastic comments and a compelling melody line that becomes ever more gripping as Lou wails out the poetry of cynicism and despair, equating pleasure and pain, in his most world-weary voice ever. The mood becomes even darker on Dirt, where the acerbic lyrics incorporate snatches of the song I Fought The Law by Bobby Fuller, before it is given a humorous twist by the girl choir chanting "Sweet, sweet, uptown dirt" in a typical Motown way, all of this over the band's loose and intentionally messy playing.
These brilliant tracks are followed by the masterpiece of a title track, a movement in three parts sketching a tragic situation and its resultant emotions in some of Reed's most poetic lyrics. Part one: Waltzing Matilda introduces the girl meets boy scenario in Reed's monotone over ominous cello. This is followed by a moment of silence and then Genya Ravan's ghostly chant of impending doom gives way to Reed the observer of an erotic encounter, a drug death and the complications arising from it.
Most chilling is the brutal & indifferent attitude of the host when confronted by the death on his property; this second part ends in Bruce Springsteen's melancholy monologue where he twists his own famous lyric to "Tramps like us, we were born to pay." The final movement, Slipaway, has a more human Reed lamenting the loss of life and love in a moving & tender way: `Love has gone away/Took the rings off my fingers/And there's nothing left to say.' Wow, this is strong, emotionally harrowing stuff.
I regret to report that the rest of this 1978 album (with the possible exception of the satirical I Wanna Be Black with its funky beat) doesn't appeal much to me and I seldom listen to it. Some of these sound like badly recorded live performances. Real Good Time Together, for example, has a strange arrangement that just doesn't work. So this is the best and the worst of Lou Reed, but Street Hassle merits four stars for the sheer brilliance of the first three tracks.