Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Velvet Underground - The Very Best Of The Velvet Underground

Here she comes now....

  

The Velvet Underground were an odd group - part sweet melodic sixties pop, part visceral, nihilistic no future drugged-up psychedelia. Even under the "poppy" numbers lay a bleak darkness, however. Although critically acclaimed, I have always felt that it was their influence that has been talked about more than the actual music itself, which I have to say is often tinny, distorted and of very poor sound quality, no matter how many remasters it undergoes. Maybe therein lies its raw, edgy, unsettling appeal.

Whatever, David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, The New York Dolls, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Roxy Music, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, U2, Magazine, Joy Division, Gang Of Four and many more punk and especially post-punk bands owe this disparate original foursome - Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen "Moe" Tucker a serious debt of gratitude.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sweet Jane
2. I'm Sticking With You
3. I'm Waiting For The Man
4. What Goes On
5. White Light/White Heat
6. All Tomorrow's Parties
7. Pale Blue Eyes
8. Femme Fatale
9. Heroin
10. Here She Comes Now
11. Stephanie Says
12. Venus In Furs
13. Beginning To See The Light
14. I Heard Her Call My Name
15. Some Kinda Love
16. I Can't Stand It
17. Sunday Morning
18. Rock & Roll

"Sweet Jane" has a sort of false beginning of melodic background noises before that trademark riff kicks in. Personally, I prefer the cover of it Mott The Hoople did and Lou Reed's own guitar-drenched live version on "Rock And Roll Animal", but the original still has its good points. For me, though, the horribly twee "I'm Sticking With You" doesn't really do it. Time to get down to some serious business. We get it with the iconic drug song, "I'm Waiting For The Man". While it has a huge, insistent riffy groove, this original recording is infuriatingly tinny and scratchy. Therein lies my big problem with a lot of VU material - the awful sound. As I said earlier, though, it perversely adds to its  grainy, dirty appeal.

"What Goes On" sees the group rocking as hard as they ever did, again featuring a killer riff and great vocal. "White Light/White Heat" is another copper-bottomed VU rocker, blighted by poor sound, but what the heck. The pace never lets up, it is full of furious punky energy, almost ten years ahead of its time. "All Tomorrow's Parties" is marvellously atmospheric, featuring the beguiling heavily accented vocals of guest vocalist, German chanteuse Nico. It is one of my favourite tracks of all from them. "Oll tomorross partiss" indeed. It really is very appealing in its essential sadness.

The plaintive "Pale Blue Eyes" is a typical Lou Reed ballad. There is a good sound on this one, funnily enough, with crystal clear percussion and melodic guitar. Despite the whole drugged up feel of pretty much every The Velvet Underground did, they also put out some serious good love songs. "Femme Fatale" has Nico returning on a haunting number - even more Teutonic this time, singing "what a clonn" instead of "clown", which, while slightly off-putting, is certainly unique and has such a quirky attractiveness to it.

Next up is Lou Reed’s masterpiece - “Heroin”. It betters “Parties”, unbelievably, in many ways. Another sparse, iconic intro - lone guitar, some isolated drum sounds and Reed’s enigmatic vocal about injecting himself with heroin. Sombre stuff, indeed, but it is an incredibly hard-hitting creation. It is a difficult listen but no less mesmeric for it. Maureen Tucker keeps a slightly clumsy drum rhythm going throughout, and the guitar burns and slices while Reed’s trip gets worse. Nobody could possibly say that this track would encourage anyone to take heroin. Reed and the band make it sound like the nightmare it clearly is. From the chilled out relaxed beginning, the “high” soon becomes a sweating, hallucinating, paranoid trip from hell, vocally and musically as the guitar starts screeching out of control. A bad heroin trip set to music. Some achievement.

"Here She Comes Now" is a psychedelic slice of late sixties pop/rock, full of frantic riffs and intense drum sounds backing a mysterious vocal, while "Stephanie Says" is the unnerving, but strangely tuneful precursor to Lou Reed's "Caroline Says II" which featured on his 1973 "Berlin" album. It has a disturbing beauty to it that is irresistible. The track is full of hiss, but otherwise the backing is sumptuous.

“Venus In Furs” is a masterpiece of menacing, drug-addled, paranoia put to music. A cutting guitar riff cuts right through the song with no change of pace as Reed’s vocal remains deadpan and relentless. A very atmospheric, evocative track. "Beginning To See The Light" is a masterpiece of VU riffage, with that trademark guitar sound, such as utilised on "I'm Waiting For The Man". It also has some fetching harmonic vocal parts in between the intense guitar. Talking of guitar, "I Heard Her Call My Name" is a glorious, feedback-drenched dollop of pre-punk viscerality. This was superbly noisy, discordant, ground-breaking stuff. "Some Kinda Love" has a captivating guitar/bass/cowbell interplay and another peerless, menacing vocal from Reed. "I Can't Stand It" is a track that didn't make it on to any of the band's albums. It is once more superbly riffy, with a great bass line and bags of grubby, subterranean atmosphere. "Sunday Morning" is Reed's oddly fetching number, with its nursery-style intro and Reed sounding like a harmless boy next door. It was a bit of a forerunner to "Perfect Day". This excellent compilation ends with a slice of sheer classic VU in the upbeat, "fine, fine music" of the totally infectious "Rock & Roll". The beat is addictively insistent, Reed's vocals get increasingly madcap, and the guitar throughout is sublime. Fine, fine music it was. Great band. Huge influence. The "Gold" compilation gives you even more, but if you want to dip into the music of this seminal band, then these eighteen tracks will do you right.

B+

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