Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)


Released March 1969

After the avant-garde art rock of 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico and the pre-post punk feedback-soaked intensity of 1968's White Light/White Heat, this third VU album showed a surprising change in direction. The band's most innovative, experimental member had left in John Cale and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Doug Yule. Lou Reed has always liked a contemplative, melodic song and this album had a few of those. It was, to a certain extent, the relatively subdued "come down" morning after the debauchery of the night before. If the first album was mid-evening, the second one was the dark, paranoid early hours and this one was the more peaceful quiet of morning. There was still an essential darkness to it all, though, that would never leave. It has a certain cohesiveness to it and is clearly far less of an all-out assault than its predecessor.

Lou Reed does look very "square" on the cover, however, more like a Harvard student than a ground-breaking member of the demi-monde.


1. Candy Says
2. What Goes On
3. Some Kinda Love
4. Pale Blue Eyes
5. Jesus
6. Beginning To See The Light
7. I'm Set Free
8. That's The Story Of My Life
9. The Murder Mystery
10. After Hours                                      

The album begins on a really low-key feel with the sad, reflective and mournful Candy Says. It features Yule singing quietly (requested to sing by Reed) and plaintively against a sparse but melodic backing. In case you were thinking that VU had forgotten how to rock, however, we are reminded that they certainly could on the comparatively powerful and riffy, Stonesy What Goes On. A notable thing on this album, is that although the sound is still decidedly ropey in places, it is better than the deliberately rough "lo-fi" sound of the second album. There is some killer guitar in the middle of this track. Some Kinda Love is a corker, too, featuring some excellent guitar/bass/cowbell interplay and a menacing-ish vocal from Reed. "Like a dirty French novel, combines the absurd with the vulgar..." is a great line. There was always a bit of wry, observational humour about Reed's lyrics.

Pale Blue Eyes goes all pious and self-analytical. Stuff like this really is nothing like the previous album.

Beginning To See The Light sees the rock return with some trademark VU riffage, such as utilised on I'm Waiting For The Man. It also has some fetching, harmonious vocal parts in between the intense guitar. I'm Set Free has a bit of a feel of Heroin about it in its stark guitar backing, but the song has none of the despair of it. Exactly the opposite, as it tries to have a liberated, optimistic message. There is a nice guitar and drum passage a couple of minutes in. Musically, the band are becoming more melodic, more subtle and clever, less one-dimensionally hard-hitting. That's The Story Of My Life is almost carefree and poppy in its singalong refrain. It could be a country rock number.

The Murder Mystery is an experimental number featuring all the band's members on vocals, often spoken. It doesn't quite work for me, if I'm honest. At nearly nine minutes it goes on far too long and Maureen "Moe" Tucker's voice is petty awful. After three or four minutes I've had enough. Unfortunately, good old Moe is back on lead vocals on After Hours, a song described by Reed as "so innocent and pure" that he couldn't possibly sing it himself. So, for me, the album finishes on a couple of comparative low points, but don't let that put you off. The previous eight tracks are all well worth checking out.