MAGIC AND LOSS
Lou Reed (Sire 26662) Death is not a normal subject for rock and roll songs, nor is grief an emotion the music is used to expressing, and as such, Lou Reed's "Magic and Loss" is a very unusual album. Essentially a 14-song cycle in which Reed chronicles and considers the way two friends died of cancer, the album is by turns angry, nostalgic, sentimental and surreal, and blessed with words and music perfectly suited to those feelings. Yet despite its seemingly morbid focus, the songs positively bristle with life -- in part because of the way Reed's writing conveys character and emotion, but mostly because what this work deals with is far more real than most rock song fodder. As rewarding as it is difficult, "Magic and Loss" has the feel of an instant classic.
PIMPS, PLAYERS & PRIVATE EYES
Various Artists (Sire 26624)
Say what you will about their cinematic merits, but the "blaxploitation" flicks of the early '70s -- films like "Shaft," 'Cleopatra Jones," "Superfly" and "Foxy Brown" -- frequently had fantastic soundtracks. Just listen to the samples assembled by rapper Ice-T for the anthology "Pimps, Players & Private Eyes," an affectionate look back at a lot of forgotten music. Unlike today's hard-edged gangsta rap, the music these movies favored was smooth and soulful, and though the collection touches the most obvious bases, like Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" and Curtis Mayfield's "Pusher Man," its greatest value lies in resurrecting tracks like Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" and Millie Jackson's "Love Doctor." A killer collection, and not just for the nostalgic.