Monday, December 6, 2010

Velvet Underground 3: The Velvet Underground

As loud as their second album was, their third went into the other direction. Perhaps to reassert themselves, having shed two of the people that made their first album so unique, they went the self-titled route. (Or maybe it was an homage to the actual title of the White Album. Who knows?)

The other big change was that John Cale was out of the band, replaced by one Doug Yule who, in addition to playing bass and piano and singing, provided a more malleable foil for Lou to push to do his bidding.

Both of these changes are apparent from the first notes heard on The Velvet Underground. “Candy Says” is a melancholy doo-wop number about a drag queen, sung by Doug, who gives the subject a sweeter delivery than Lou could. “What Goes On” brings on the drums, a good jam over three or four chords, with plenty of room for a stinging lead and a bed of Hammond organ. The lyrical twists and poetry in “Some Kinda Love” still fascinate, despite the metronomic cowbell driving it. The tender classic “Pale Blue Eyes” is something of a love song, sung by Lou, asserting himself as the voice of the band. When combined with the prayer that is “Jesus”, it’s hard to believe this is the same band from the first two albums.

Side two continues to play with our expectations. “Beginning To See The Light” jangles along through three distinct sections—typical of the “boogie” songs Lou was writing at the time—that could have been songs all their own, but combined successfully here. One of the albums lesser-known tracks, but one of the best, is “I’m Set Free”, which alternates elation with an uncomfortable sense of futility over a wonderful strum. “That’s The Story Of My Life” is very brief, stopping only long enough for a quick solo, before letting “The Murder Mystery” take over. This challenging track features all four Velvets on dueling vocals, Lou and Sterling spitting out their parts, and then Doug and Moe crooning their own. You can spend hours trying to figure out all the words and how they alternate, but nine minutes is usually enough for anyone. The jaunty “After Hours”, sung by Moe, provides a respite and a finale.

The Velvet Underground doesn’t deliver the same decadence as its predecessors, but goes to show that they were much more than simple noisemakers doing Andy Warhol’s bidding. In fact, they were even starting to sound like a real band.

Two stereo mixes of the album were issued; the one supervised by Lou and favoring his vocal and guitar was dubbed “the closet mix”. While it takes a keen ear to tell the difference, the standard version of the album does have some longer edits, particularly on “What Goes On” and “Some Kinda Love”. The 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of the album included both, plus a third, mono mix, a disc of later 1969 recordings already sampled on the VU and Another View albums in different mixes, and two discs of live recordings from the Matrix in San Francisco, some of which had been tapped for 1969 Live and The Quine Tapes, and would eventually emerge, in toto, on their own. (A two-disc Deluxe Edition offered the standard, non-“closet” mix and a disc of “highlights” from the Matrix shows, but c’mon, who’d settle for that?)

The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground (1969)—
2014 Deluxe Edition: same as 1968, plus 12 extra tracks (45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition adds another 43 tracks)

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