Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground


I love the John Cale VU. Their first two albums are great and have their place chiseled out in the history of rock music for good reason.

I just happen to love Cale-less VU even more.

I think experimentation and thinking outside the box and all that is great. It should be done much, much more nowadays. However, most don’t do it because, although the potential reward is much greater, the risk is also much greater. And musicians already take a huge risk by trying to make a living in music. VU was no exception as it turned out to be an unsuccessful approach in terms of sales and popularity. But, the payoff was huge for us, as it was a huge success in terms of inspiration and breaking new ground. I shudder to think of what music would be like today if it weren’t for these guys.

All that said, I may be contradicting myself a bit by saying that stripping the mighty Velvet Underground of its eccentric, mad genius was exactly the best thing for VU, as it allowed the beauty of Lou’s songwriting and singing to shine through unimpeded. Although it hurts to say it, this is an excellent example of addition by subtraction. I think we all knew Lou had it in him to pen such simple, gorgeous songs as “Candy Says” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” and now he actually could. And how refreshing it is just to hear them jam out simple, rockin’ songs as they do so well on “What Goes On” and “Beginning to See the Light.”

Then there’s the really underrated song of the album, the mid-tempo, slow-building “I’m Set Free.” I get chills when the song culminates to its chorus and they all harmonize “I’m Set Free!” It’s like the sober little brother of “Heroin.” Just awesome stuff.

Ok, so I can’t escape this review without addressing the most controversial song on the album, “The Murder Mystery.” While it’s really quite a fascinating experiment on wordplay, studio trickery, and sound collages, it just doesn’t belong on this album. It comes out of nowhere and takes nearly 9 minutes away from the tone that was established so perfectly on the previous eight songs. I rate this album as I as I do despite it, not because of it. It’s the one flaw that brings it down from perfection, and it’s a shame that they had to include it. It would have been much better released on another album, or as a b-side.

Fortunately, Mo brings the album back to earth with the quaint, innocent acoustic sing-a-long song, “After Hours,” appropriately closing the door on the best thing The Velvet Underground ever did.

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