Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No. 314: The Velvet Underground


Band: The Velvet Underground
Album: The Velvet Underground
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Velvet Underground's third album has Lou Reed growing inward and taking a shot at folk music and toning the band's sound down from the spasms that was "White Light/White Heat."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Only one of the band's iconic songs is represented here, "What Goes On," though the rest of the album is excellent.
Best song: "After Hours" is, due to Mo Tucker's voice, the most tender thing the band ever released. "What Goes On" is one of the band's most famous songs and is fantastic.
Worst song: Here's my statement that will take away any indie cred I had previously had: I don't like "The Murder Mystery."
Is it awesome?: Yep.

One thing that bugs me a little when anyone writes about this record is how they describe it as being so different than their other stuff. The Velvets released four albums (I don't count "Squeeze" and neither should you) and none of them sounds like the others. The first record follows some song forms while rocking out, while "WL/WH" is wildly experimental. This record is softer while "Loaded" is, essentially, a pop album.

So, to say that this one sounds so different is silly. They all sound different.

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Listening to it again, the album is strikingly good. Lou Reed's ability to tell the dissonant and bizarre stories of the world (as his personality profile in "Candy Says" is fantastic) peppers the album as well as his pop sensibilities. The album highlight, "What Goes On" is a beautiful little pop love song with Reed singing "you know it'll be all right."

Padraig, one of my commentors, recently calledthis album his favorite VU record. I don't know that it is my favorite, but it is full of tracks that always sound good. "Pale Blue Eyes" is wonderfully personal, allegedly leading Sterling Morrison to protest "if I wrote a song like that, I wouldn't make you play it" when Reed first played it for him. "Jesus" is a touching religious number and "The Murder Mystery" is a word experiment.

"After Hours" closes out the album in a way no other Velvets song could. Solely a guitar and Maureen Tucker's voice occupy the soundspace. Tucker's voice is feminine and tender, something fitting the album more than Reed's Long Island growl. The song's themes of ends and darkness work within the band's oeuvre, but sound refreshing in Tucker's hands.

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Like every other Velvets album, "The Velvet Underground" is different and amazing. It may not be their best album, but it's certainly amazing.

2 comments:

kellydwyer said...

gotdayum I love this site.

padraig said...

rj - yep, it is my favorite VU album but I have to admit that that's largely due to my randomly purchasing a copy, with no prior knowledge of the band, when I was 11 or 12 - I think it was the cover that got my attention, which doesn't make sense, but that's what I remember. That being about 1996 the local "alt-rock" station was chock full of garbage like Nada Surf and latter Soundgarden so it wound up being by leaps and bounds the weirdest CD I had for a year and half. I must have listened to it thousands of times trying to figure out what "Murder Mystery" was on about. Then I discovered Crass, Discharge, etc. and that was that. Still though, a decade plus and innumerable albums later it still has a special place in my heart, somewhere in between the J Dilla back catalogue, shitty black metal demo tapes and dubstep MP3s. I think everyone should have an album like that and I hope most people do.

I do think "What Goes On" is VU's best song, although the superior version by far is the one on 1969: Velvet Underground Live - nine minutes of that fantastic riff and about three times as fast and crazy.