Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground

There's not much to be said after news of Lou Reed's death was heard today.  This blogger first became interested in The Velvet Underground in 1984 through the White Light/White Heat album, which was going to be the next VU album covered in this blog.

Today's revelation, though, seems to call for a focus on the self-titled follow-up, which was recorded at the end of 1968 and appeared the following March.  The Velvet Underground is a quieter, more personal, almost claustrophobic record, giving more emphasis on the melodic and contemplative side to the band and, especially, its complex leader, Reed.  There was some controversy involving the recording as Reed insisted on a mix that became known as the "phone booth" mix because it elevated the vocals and put the instrumental parts in the background, but the label insisted on a different (probably more balanced) mix that was released.  In the Velvet Underground box set, however, Reed' mix was included and it is certainly interesting to listen to and compare the two.

The album is a remarkable cohesive group of pieces, from the fragile opener "Candy Says" with the innocent-like vocals of new bassist Doug Yule to the more up-tempo pieces like "What Goes On" and "Beginning to See the Light," to the stunning ballad "Jesus" and the very touching closer "After Hours," with its out-of-tune, but charming, vocalizing by drummer Maureen Tucker.  The kinky and catchy classic, "Some Kinda Love" is a highlight, as well. Perhaps the centerpiece of this exceptional album, though, is the gorgeous "Pale Blue Eyes," a true classic song.

Then there's "The Murder Mystery," an experimental piece with overlapping recitation and counterpoint singing by the four band members that has gotten very extreme reactions from some observers.  This listener finds it intriguing and appreciates that Reed had the audacity to try something that unusual, especially in the midst of an album that was, otherwise, highly melodic, tuneful, and spare.  Would "The Murder Mystery" have been quite as confounding if it had been on White Light/White Heat?

The Velvet Underground is a great album and it just seemed a perfect listen after hearing of Lou Reed's passing.  May he rest in peace.

The Velvet Underground:  The Velvet Underground  (MGM Records, 1969)

1.  Candy Says  4:02
2.  What Goes On  4:52
3.  Some Kinda Love  4:00
4.  Pale Blue Eyes  5:38
5.  Jesus  3:22
6.  Beginning to See the Light  4:38
7.  I'm Set Free  4:01
8.  That's the Story of My Life  1:56
9.  The Murder Mystery  8:53
10.  After Hours  2:07

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