The Velvet Underground – 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Polydor/UMe)

cd Velvet-UndergroundThe quality of the songwriting was certainly still there, but the production left it with a sound that had less edge and more seduction.

 

 

I’m old enough to say I heard this album the first time around. I’m sure it was playing somewhere—most likely not in our house, where the Bee Gees and Tom Jones reigned—and I was beginning an extended love affair with the Beatles. Thing is, the Velvet Underground certainly fit into the category of bands I feared because the name sounded far too foreign. As I got older, I learned to seek out these scary names —The Clash, the Violent Femmes, and Bauhaus among them—and I am a better person for it. I was, however, more familiar with the solo Lou Reed and some of John Cale’s more illustrious production work.

This is not to say that I didn’t explore VU’s catalog, but it was essentially to find out where the guy who sang “Sweet Jane” came from. I am more familiar with the resounding echoes of the band from countless acts I followed in my teens and 20s who covered and revered the band. It seems there are very few bad covers of the VU: REM regularly covered the band during its live shows, doing a more than passable version of “Pale Blue Eyes.” Ambulance LTD covered “The Ocean” on its debut, and it was a really nice match of vocal styling and dreamy production.

This 45th anniversary version of The Velvet Underground, the band’s third release, is a deserved tribute to the album (and band), but also a bit of overkill. The Super Deluxe Version contains six CDs. You get three versions of the album, extras, and two CDs of a live show. The album came at a moment of change for the band. Guitarist John Cale left the band due to artistic differences with singer Lou Reed. Reed wanted to steer the band to a more accessible place. Cale was an experimenter. The quality of the songwriting was certainly still there (as all those covers by all those bands will attest) but the production on the album left it with a sound that had less edge and more seduction. The album came at a period that lacked definition and cherished the lead singer, perfect for Reed and his almost folk rock like songs. It is not for nothing that the second version of the album is identified as the Lou Reed mix or the closet mix (as it sounded like you were in a closet with Reed and he is whispering stories to you). The effect is a bit claustrophobic, but also very intimate.

The first three CDs are the three existing versions of the album: a stereo remix of the album, the Reed version, and the mono promo release. You get various versions of the songs. Certainly nice to have all these in one place, but I ended up picking one (mono) and dispatching the other two. The fourth disc contains outtakes from an unreleased VU album that would yield Reed’s departure from the band. Loaded was supposed to be the commercial breakthrough for the band. Several of the songs would turn up in Reed’s future solo albums, and here you get to hear them in their primordial mode. I’ve never been a big fan of people screwing around in the studio, but it is nice to hear these songs prior to the rigors of studio production.

The live recordings filling out the final two discs of the box set are a worthy addition to the band’s collection. VU’s performance (albeit without Cale) at The Matrix in San Francisco on two nights in November 1969 was truly riveting. Hearing a 36-minute-plus version of “Sister Ray” is impressive. What goes on for longer than a sitcom and still remains riveting? The recording works on many levels, but essentially it captures a pivotal moment in rock ’n’ roll. While VU was never my favorite band by a long stretch, there are many hints here revealing it to be a band that altered music and started a path that would lead many good places in the future—even if we would have to go through rock bloat and disco.

The super deluxe version contains all six CDs, but UMe will be parceling out the set in a few pieces, with the stereo version and selections of the live recording having its own release. | Jim Dunn

Grade: the album as a whole: B-; the album as a piece of rock history: A


About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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