am 16. Januar 2005
This box set includes the first three Velvet Underground albums: Velvet Underground and Nico, White Light/White Heat and The Velvet Underground.
Astonishing in its diversity, the influential debut album appeared like a supernova and endures as a classic because of the quality of the songs. With the exception of the discordant Black Angel's Death Song and to a lesser extent European Son, a lovely melody line underpins every song. This is especially evident on the melancholic Sunday Morning, the resigned Femme Fatale and the wistful All Tomorrow's Parties, but by no means lacking on more confrontational tracks like Venus In Furs or Heroin.
I'll Be Your Mirror has the same folkie feel as Sunday Morning, while the roughness of Black Angel and European Son (the latter dedicated to poet Delmore Schwartz, one of Reed's heroes) has become more digestible as the mainstream has caught up with this pioneering work. The voice of Nico, the archetypical Teutonic Blonde, adds a strange and eerie dimension to the album as a whole.
These songs have often been covered; to name just a few of my favorite interpretations: Sunday Morning by OMD, Waiting For The Man by John Cale and Nico on various of their solo albums, Femme Fatale by Propaganda, All Tomorrow's Parties by June Tabor, There She Goes Again by REM. The legacy of the VU, and of this album in particular, may be observed in the beautiful sonic sojourns of bands like inter alia Mercury Rev, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Suicide and Swans. The "Banana" album remains a monument to the fierce spirit of rock 'n roll. Rating: Five Bright Stars.
White Light/White Heat primarily reveals the hard, dissonant side of this legendary group in short driving songs like the title track and the album's magnum opus, the turbulent Sister Ray, a 17-minute assault of electric guitars and hypnotic drumming. The Gift is a rather macabre story of a guy who had himself posted to his sweetheart in a big box. This type of spoken narrative also surfaces on their third album in The Murder Mystery and in John Cale's solo career, in a song like The Jeweller.
There are also more delicate songs on White Light/White Heat, like the gently droning Lady Godiva's Operation and the subdued Here She Comes Now. I Heard Her Call My Name is a potent piece of garage rock with feedback and chugging rhythm, and then the glorious Sister Ray showcases the awesome power of the Velvets in 17 mesmerising minutes. In a sense, this song is the full realisation of the style that first surfaced on the Banana album in songs like Heroin and European Son.
By the time this album was recorded, the gothic chanteuse Nico had left. In my opinion, White Light/White suffers from her absence as she contributed much to the atmospheric world-weariness of the debut. There is some variety on White Light/White Heat but the harsh and chaotic, "heavy metal" sound is predominant. The rating of four stars is in comparison to the five star debut album; as an example of primal hard rock, this album is equal to the best of the genre.
After the fierce White Light/White Heat, the third album saw the Velvet Underground in a calmer, more contemplative mood and exploring their softer side which first surfaced on songs like Sunday Morning and I'll Be Your Mirror on their debut. The exceptions are What Goes On with its shimmering guitars and Beginning To See The Light with its urgent rock riff and almost Stones-like flavour. Some Kinda Love is softer although there is still that unique driving sense of nervousness in the rhythm.
The gem of the album is Pale Blue Eyes, where Reed surpasses himself as a poet in the intimate, evocative images. This song also has one of the Velvets' most gripping melodies and the delivery is perfect. A gentle ballad with a wistful feel, Pale Blue Eyes must be one of the most beautiful songs of all time. There are plenty of beautiful ballads like Jesus, I'm Set Free and That's The Story Of My Life. The Murder Mystery consists of spoken and sung parts over a brooding backing that becomes dissonant toward the end. This classic album concludes with the playful acoustic number Afterhours. Rating: Four and a half stars.