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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grandparents of Pop

The theme of today's column is: How are the old-timers of pop surviving in 1996? As you'll see, the answer is quite mixed. Sometimes they're doing just fine, other times retirement is overdue.

Lou Reed "Set the Twilight Reeling" (Warner)

Although the album cover has an interesting design that creates a three-dimensional effect, this visual introduction is actually totally misleading, as Reed's new long-play -- his first in five years -- has nothing to do with hi-tech, the Internet or even good old psychedelia.

The album's musical side is stripped down to the absolute basics, and this is perhaps the humblest stuff Lou Reed has recorded since 1973's infamous "Metal Machine Music."

For purists and Velvet Underground fans this may be a welcome move, as most of the album sounds like "I'm Waiting for my Man" revisited. Not being an aficionado of Lou's poetry and bored by the musical contents, I was disappointed -- especially considering his previous effort, the magnificent "Magic and Loss".

Iggy Pop "Naughty Little Doggy" (Virgin)

I really don't know whether to laugh at this album or admire it. Iggy, who's about 50 now, has recorded yet another work of sheer juvenile rock'n'roll machismo, which may be seen as both a statement of his incorruptible youthful spirit or a sign of infantile cretinism.

I would prefer to believe in the former as I have always fancied Iggy but, apart from the above-average level of energy and Pop's naughty big voice, the album is nothing special.

Patti Smith "Gone Again" (Arista)

In the 21 years since her stunning debut, "Horses", this is only Patti's fifth album, and her first in nearly a decade. "Gone Again" is dedicated to Fred Sonic Smith, Patti Smith's husband and rock guitarist, who died at the end of last year, and this is the most tragic and one of the most powerful records I've heard recently.

Patti Smith's voice has lost none of its passion and tension, and she remains a major songwriting talent. This is definitely not easy listening, since every track here bleeds with sorrow, but the album is so good you end up feeling lucky that Patti hasn't kept her tragedy to herself and instead made this monumentally emotional and moving record.

Ray Charles "Strong Love Affair" (Qwest)

Ray Charles is undoubtedly one of the greatest living singers, but he hasn't had a really impressive album for years. "Strong Love Affair" may be the one. He's well-balanced between hot and cool, bluesy and funky, adult pop and dance groove.

I personally much prefer the slower, minor-key numbers like "Say No more" and "Separate Ways" but Ray still can rock and swing, and it shows. No revelations, but extremely pleasant listening.

Mark Knopfler "Golden Heart" (Vertigo)

Strangely enough, I've found this solo offering from the Dire Straits vocalist/guitarist more satisfactory than his megaband's megaboring stuff. The songs are shorter, lighter, stylistically more varied and remind me of Eric Clapton when he's in pop mode. Since the album has failed commercially, this may be Knopfler's last attempt to deviate from his main band's format.

Elvis Presley "Elvis '56" (RCA)

Of course this guy isn't still around, but these 1956 recordings, released now to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the immortal "Heartbreak Hotel", are better by far than any of the above reviewed, except for Patti Smith. The album includes never-before released takes from Sun Studios. The material is still cool.