Friday, May 30, 2014

The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Verve V6-5008

I started listening to this album again for my post on the VU's "Scepter Studio Sessions" record last year.  It is not like I had completely stopped listening to it, it is one of the ten most important records in my life.  However after over 30 years of playing it, I wasn't really hearing it anymore, I knew it too well.  Hearing the acetate version opened up the record for me again.  My copy is not an original pressing.  It dates from the late 1970s when it was reissued by Polydor on the Verve label.  It looks nice and sounds fine so I've never felt compelled to replace it with an original or any of the modern reissues.  Originals were not hard to find in Berkeley back when I was there, but they were pricey and most of them had the banana skin sticker peeled off the cover revealing the pink banana underneath.  This is such a rich album that it has been able to appeal to me in different ways as I have grown and changed.  When I first got it I was an immature and naive teenager from the suburbs.  Back then I was drawn to the shock value of "Heroin," "Venus In Furs," "There She Goes Again," and "I'm Waiting for the Man" with their vivid depictions of drug abuse, perversion and sexual violence.  Those songs were already more than 10 years old when I first heard them but they were still so much more daring and dark than the classic rock crap I was hearing on the radio.  I was as straight as they come and I got a big charge out of hearing Lou Reed singing about putting a "spike" into his vein.  As I got into my 20s and 30s it was the music itself that appealed to me the most.  I loved the slow/fast dynamic of "Heroin," the incessant pounding rhythm of "Run Run Run" and "I'm Waiting For The Man," the dissonant noise of "The Black Angel's Death Song" with John Cale mercilessly tormenting his viola and above all the band's fantastic assault on the eardrums with their epic workout on "European Son."  That song still sounds so modern and exciting to me, it remains one of my favorite VU songs.  However now that I'm an old fogey I find myself drawn to "Sunday Morning" and the three songs Nico sings on the album, "Femme Fatale," "All Tomorrow's Parties," and especially "I'll Be Your Mirror."  The mixture of angst, ennui and tenderness in those songs appeals strongly to me.  I like Nico as an artist and a singer more now than I did when I was young and I value her contribution to this record more than I did back when I first heard it.  Cale has always been intellectual and cold as an artist and Reed was a sarcastic smart ass with a rock and roll heart.  Neither conveyed as much feeling as Nico did as a vocalist.  Nico made the group sexy and her sincerity and worldly persona gave them depth.  The Velvets made great music without her, but I like them best when Nico was with them.  This album is 47 years old but it still sounds fresh and invigorating, unlike a lot of the hippie music from that era.  It captured the world that produced it as well as any record ever has.  Lou Reed had a fantastic gift for observation worthy of a journalist and thrust into the frenzied environment of lunacy, perversion and creativity that surrounded Andy Warhol and the New York experimental art world, he responded with a record that is both a documentary portrait and an artistic analysis.  It is not only a depiction of the energy and insanity of the 1960s but it also foreshadows the nihilism and narcissism of the 1970s.  To borrow an expression from Jean-Luc Godard, this record is the truth at 33 and 1/3 revolutions per minute and it is delivered with music that is brimming with vitality and adventurousness.  Cale, Reed and Nico went on to make a lot of great music after this album, but I don't think the music on this album has ever been surpassed, by them or any other rock artist.  Recommended to people who think Andy Warhol's films are better than his paintings.

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