February 03, 2003 12:00 PM

LOU Reed (Sire/Reprise)

Throughout his career—from his innovative, proto-punk work with the Velvet Underground to his ever-edgy solo recordings—Lou Reed has always walked on the wild side. On his latest release the 60-year-old rocker finds a kindred twisted spirit in Edgar Allan Poe—whose writing Reed first reimagined in POEtry, a 2001 stage production on which this two-disc set is based. “These are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe/ Not exactly the boy next door,” he sings in rock-opera style on “Edgar Allan Poe.” In addition to performing songs inspired by the poet (with musical assists from David Bowie, the Blind Boys of Alabama and saxman Ornette Coleman), Reed reworks such Poe classics as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven” (with spoken-word support from actors Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi and Elizabeth Ashley).

It’s all very ambitious, but the effect is like trying to enjoy performance art blindfolded. Only a few tracks, like the haunting ballad “Guardian Angel,” hold up out of context, while some numbers, such as the noisy instrumental “Fire Music,” are little more than incidental music. Even so, when Reed is in his goth glory on “Burning Embers,” it’s an eerily perfect match.

BOTTOM LINE: Nothing to rave about

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