It's my dream album, because everything finally came together to where the album is finally fully realized. I got it to do what I wanted it to do, commercial thoughts never entered into it, so I'm just stunned.“”—Lou Reed, explaining his satisfaction with the album.
Magic and Loss was originally intended to be primarily about themes of magic after hearing stories about magicians in Mexico. However, when tragedy struck during the writing process, Reed expanded the album's focus to themes of loss and death as well. Inspired in part by the illnesses and eventual deaths of two close friends, Magic and Loss was written for songwriter Doc Pomus, who had given Reed his start in the music business some 25 years earlier, and a woman Reed has identified as "Rita" — popularly assumed to be Rotten Rita, who along with Reed was a familiar figure at Andy Warhol's studio, The Factory, in the mid-to-late '60s. Photographs of Pomus and a woman's face can be seen at the center of the lyric booklet included with the CD release.
Jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott performs the backing vocal on track 3, "Power and Glory". Reed's live performance of the album filmed on March 18, 1992 atPinewood Studios in London was released on VHS and LD.
The single "What's Good"/"The Room", released in March, was Reed's second #1 hit (after "Dirty Blvd.") on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart,occupying the top spot for three weeks. The 12" version of the release contained Reed's reading of "Harry's Circumcision" and "A Dream". A longer version of "What's Good" was previously released on the 1991 soundtrack album to Until the End of the World.
Magic and Loss was voted the 16th best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1992. Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, disapproved of the voters' support of an album he felt was a "failed concept" marred by Reed's uninteresting views on death. Christgau gave it a "neither" grade in his own review, indicating an album that does not warrant repeated listening despite coherent craft and one or two highlights. In a positive review,Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune said that the album shows "a great rocker at the peak of his powers: Striking tunes, gripping lyrics, honest emotion stripped of melodrama."
All lyrics and music by Lou Reed unless otherwise stated.
- "Dorita - The Spirit" – 1:07
- "What's Good - The Thesis" – 3:22
- "Power and Glory - The Situation" – 4:23 (Lou Reed, Mike Rathke)
- "Magician - Internally" – 6:23
- "Sword of Damocles - Externally" – 3:42
- "Goodby Mass - In a Chapel Bodily Termination" – 4:25
- "Cremation - Ashes to Ashes" – 2:54
- "Dreamin' - Escape" – 5:07 (Reed, Rathke)
- "No Chance - Regret" – 3:15
- "Warrior King - Revenge" – 4:27
- "Harry's Circumcision - Reverie Gone Astray" – 5:28
- "Gassed and Stoked - Loss" – 4:18 (Reed, Rathke)
- "Power and Glory, Part II - Magic - Transformation" – 2:57 (Reed, Rathke)
- "Magic and Loss - The Summation" – 6:39 (Reed, Rathke)