Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Velvet Underground ‎– VU (1984)

Style: Garage Rock, Art Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Verve Records, Polydor

A1.   I Can't Stand It
A2.   Stephanie Says
A3.   She's My Best Friend
A4.   Lisa Says
A5.   Ocean
B1.   Foggy Notion
B2.   Temptation Inside Your Heart
B3.   One Of These Days
B4.   Andy's Chest
B5.   I'm Sticking With You

Producer – The Velvet Underground
Written-By – Lou Reed

No one seems to know if the Velvet Underground were making an album or just cutting demos when they went into the studio in 1969 not long before their contract with MGM Records ran out -- even the members of the band didn't agree on the particulars years after the fact -- but when the tapes were rediscovered in Polygram's vaults in the early '80s, it led to the first major archival release from the Velvets since 1969: Velvet Underground Live, and one that was every bit as important. While many of the tunes on VU had circulated for years on bootlegs (sourced from rough-mix acetates reportedly belonging to Sterling Morrison), the album gave them their first authorized release, and in much improved fidelity. Some fans have grumbled (and not without reason) over the very '80s polish the new mixes gave the tunes, but this still sounds like the Velvet Underground, and in fine fettle at that. The 1969 recordings on VU rank with some of the most accessible but potent rock & roll the Velvet Underground ever recorded; if Loaded sometimes felt like a compromised version of the band, these tapes show how the Velvets could play nice in the studio without betraying their musical instincts in the least, and "I Can't Stand It," "Foggy Notion," and "One of These Days" are memorable, punchy rock tunes that also have a vital sense of adventure, perfectly befitting the band's history and outlook. VU also includes a few older archive recordings (including the lovely "Stephanie Says" with John Cale on viola, and the great R&B workout "Temptation Inside Your Heart") that have a different feel but still mesh gracefully with the scrappy 1969 tapes. VU was the first authorized look at what Velvet Underground fans have come to call "the Great Lost Album," and the more straightforward presentation of these recordings on the 2014 Super Deluxe edition of The Velvet Underground is probably truer to the original intent, but VU was assembled with real care, and it shows -- the sequence flatters the songs, and the music is a reminder that this band wasn't as alienating as many writers like to suggest. The Velvet Underground were fearless groundbreakers, but they could also play tough but joyous rock & roll that made people want to dance, and that side of the band stands proudly at front and center on VU.
Mark Deming / AllMusic

The Velvet Underground ‎– Loaded (1970)

Style: Art Rock, Classic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Cotillion, Atlantic

A1.   Who Loves The Sun
A2.   Sweet Jane
A3.   Rock & Roll
A4.   Cool It Down
A5.   New Age
B1.   Head Held High
B2.   Lonesome Cowboy Bill
B3.   I Found A Reason
B4.   Train Round The Bend
B5.   Oh Sweet Nuthin'

Composed By  – Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison
Drums – Doug Yule, Moe Tucker
Lead Guitar – Doug Yule, Sterling Morrison
Organ, Bass, Acoustic Guitar – Doug Yule
Percussion – Adrian Barber, Bill Yule, Tommy Castanaro
Piano – Doug Yule, Lou Reed
Rhythm Guitar – Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison
Vocals – Doug Yule, Lou Reed
Lyrics By – Doug Yule
Composed By  – Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison
Producer – Geoffrey Haslam, Shel Kagan, The Velvet Underground

Looking back on the circumstances around his departure from the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed had this to say in 1972: “I gave them an album loaded with hits and it was loaded with hits to the point where the rest of the people showed their colours. So I left them to their album full of hits that I made.” The recording of Loaded was clearly an emotional time for Reed. The period between the March 1969 release of The Velvet Underground and the start of Loaded’s principal recording sessions in April 1970 was especially fraught for the group. They began work on a fourth studio album in May, 1969. But by August, the band had parted company with MGM – new MD Mike Curb envisaged a more wholesome direction for the label, and suspecting how that might pan out the for his charges, manager Steve Sesnick extricated the group from their contract. By November, the album had disappeared. Reed, meanwhile, was having problems of his own. His long-running affair with Shelley Corwin, his muse, was in a slow decline. Increasingly disturbed by the effects of long-term drug use on close friends including Factory compatriot Billy Name, Reed responded by getting even more out of it. “Lou went out of his skull and ended up with a warped sense of time and space that lasted several weeks,” journalist Richard Meltzer is quoted by Reed’s biographer, Victor Bockris. 
At the start of 1970, the Velvet Underground signed to Atlantic Records, while still $30,000 in debut to MGM. Moe Tucker, meanwhile, took maternity leave in March; her stand-in was Doug Yule’s younger brother, Billy. Existing frictions between Reed and Sterling Morrison continued. “I had hardly spoken to Lou in months,” Morrison admitted to NME’s Mary Harron in 1981. “Maybe I never forgave him for wanting Cale out of the band. I was so mad at him, for real or imaginary offences, and I just didn’t want to talk. I was zero psychological assistance to Lou.” Elsewhere, other equally toxic dramas were being played out. Writing in The Velvet Underground fanzine in 1996, Doug Yule revealed, “Sesnick, always looking for the advantage, was driving wedges between everyone, trying to keep the bickering going and the communication between us shut off.” 
By the time the Velvets convene to record Loaded, you could be forgiven for wondering whether they’d actually finish the album, or simply combust in the studio. The April to July sessions at Atlantic Studios, New York overlapped with a ten-week homecoming residency at Max’s Kansas City. Reed, worried about his straining his voice, ceded four lead vocals to Doug Yule. “The sessions for Loaded were extremely different than those which produced the third album,” Yule wrote. “Many of the songs had been played live, but the recorded versions were very different than the road versions. The emphasis was on air time. Every song was looked at with the understanding that there was a need to produce some kind of mainstream hit… Songs were built intellectually rather than by the processes that live performances brought to bear, instinct and trial and error.” 
The songs – including their roll call of ladies: Jane, Ginny, Miss Linda Lee, Polly May and Joanna Love – represent a refinement of the band’s aesthetic – a healthy middle ground between the avant garde stylings of the first two albums and Reed’s Top 40 sensibilities. And such variety! From jaunty, Monkees style pop (“Who Loves The Sun”) to freewheeling rave-ups (“Oh, Sweet Nuthin’”). And then there’s “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll”. The former, with its sensational ‘D-A-G-Bm-A’ hook, finds Reed on familiar territory, “Standing on the corner / Suitcase in my hand”, watching Jack and Jane, two straights: a banker and a clerk. Reed describes the differences between male and female, conservative and liberated, old and new, shifting perspectives as the song progresses, double backing on himself, wrong-footing the listener. It’s an immense and highly complex piece of narrative songwriting, followed by “Rock & Roll” – one of the great songs about the transformative power of music. Possibly autobiographical, it’s about five-year old Jenny, who “one fine morning turns on a New York station and she doesn’t believe what she heard at all.” Her “life is saved by rock and roll” and she is elevated to the ultimate Reed condition: “It was alright”. 
“Cool It Down” is more up-tempo pop, this time with a Stonesy barroom piano, before “New Age” – another example of Reed’s next level song writing on this album. A love song of sorts – delivered by Yule – full of tender nostalgia for a “fat blond actress… over the hill now / And you’re looking for love”. But the real thing here is the song’s audacious three-act structure, beginning with the verses, rising at 3:08 to what you assume is the outro and then slipping in a majestic middle eight at 3:32 to lead you out of the song across the next minute and a half. “Head Held High” is a fun stomping boogie followed by the almost comically jaunty “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” and the beautiful “I Found A Reason” which walks a line between the doo wop so beloved by the young Reed and the stoned balladry of “Pale Blue Eyes”. The pace quickens with “Train Round The Bend” draped in eerie swathes of tremolo, before we reach the album’s hymnal-like closer, “Oh, Sweet Nuthin’”. Step forward Sterling Morrison, who delivers some fine intuitive guitar playing here opposite Reed: whatever issues they might otherwise have had, they operated entirely in synch here as Morrison’s loose, rolling guitar chords sit perfectly against Reed’s wide-ranging solos. Credit, though, is also due to Doug Yule: an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, whose work here – on bass, piano, guitar and vocals – provides a consistently solid bedrock for Reed’s flourishing songwriting. 
Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground on August 28, 1970 after the final show at Max’s, leaving New York for his parents’ home in Freeport, Long Island. The strain had become too much for him. In his absence, Sesnick meddled with Loaded: he cut the “wine and roses” bridge section from “Sweet Jane”, trimmed back the ending to “New Age” and messed with Reed’s intended sequencing. Further, he shunted Reed’s name below Yule and Morrison on the band line-up for the album’s original pressing, and attributed the songwriting credits as: “All selections are by The Velvet Underground”. It took a subsequent court case to restore Reed’s full rights to all the material. 
While Reed spent 1970 and 1971 in exile, Yule ploughed on with the Velvet Underground, fulfilling dates in Europe. It was a dismal end – their explosive promise fizzing out in European backwaters during the early Seventies, the corpse growing cold somewhere between Kingston Polytechnic and Northamptonshire Cricket Club. A fifth album, Squeeze, appeared in February, 1973 although this was ostensibly a Doug Yule solo record (with, curiously, Deep Purple’s Ian Paice on drums). 
None of this, though, can diminish the power and brilliance of Loaded. As Reed himself observed, “Despite all the amputations, you know you could just go out and dance to a rock and roll station.” The power of rock and roll conquers all. It was alright.
Michael Bonner / Uncut

The Velvet Underground ‎– The Velvet Underground (1969)

Style: Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: MGM Records

A1.   Candy Says
A2.   What Goes On
A3.   Some Kinda Love
A4.   Pale Blue Eyes
A5.   Jesus
B1.   Beginning To See The Light
B2.   I'm Set Free
B3.   That's The Story Of My Life
B4.   The Murder Mystery
B5.   After Hours

Bass, Organ, Vocals – Doug Yule
Percussion, Vocals – Maureen Tucker
Producer, Arranged By – The Velvet Underground
Vocals, Guitar – Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison
Written-By – Lou Reed

Upon first release, the Velvet Underground's self-titled third album must have surprised their fans nearly as much as their first two albums shocked the few mainstream music fans who heard them. After testing the limits of how musically and thematically challenging rock could be on Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat, this 1969 release sounded spare, quiet, and contemplative, as if the previous albums documented some manic, speed-fueled party and this was the subdued morning after. (The album's relative calm has often been attributed to the departure of the band's most committed avant-gardist, John Cale, in the fall of 1968; the arrival of new bassist Doug Yule; and the theft of the band's amplifiers shortly before they began recording.) But Lou Reed's lyrical exploration of the demimonde is as keen here as on any album he ever made, while displaying a warmth and compassion he sometimes denied his characters. "Candy Says," "Pale Blue Eyes," and "I'm Set Free" may be more muted in approach than what the band had done in the past, but "What Goes On" and "Beginning to See the Light" made it clear the VU still loved rock & roll, and "The Murder Mystery" (which mixes and matches four separate poetic narratives) is as brave and uncompromising as anything on White Light/White Heat. This album sounds less like the Velvet Underground than any of their studio albums, but it's as personal, honest, and moving as anything Lou Reed ever committed to tape.
Mark Deming / AllMusic

The Velvet Underground ‎– White Light/White Heat (1968)

Style: Noise, Experimental, Art Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Verve Records

A1.   White Light/White Heat
A2.   The Gift
A3.   Lady Godiva's Operation
A4.   Here She Comes Now
B1.   I Heard Her Call My Name
B2.   Sister Ray

Percussion – Maureen Tuckeri
Vocals, Guitar, Bass Guitar – Sterling Morrison
Vocals, Guitar, Piano – Lou Reed
Vocals, Viola [Electric Viola], Organ, Bass Guitar – John Cale
Mastered By – Dennis M. Drake
Producer – Tom Wilson

The Velvet Underground's White Light / White Heat (Verve, 1968) was an antidote to insipid pop and a stark contrast to the happier, more optimistic sounds of many West Coast rock bands. Its tales of death, depravity and despair are classics. Puttin' On The Ritz's re-visioning of the entire album—which is available on vinyl and as a download—remains true to the adventure and inventiveness of the original but paints some very different musical pictures.  
There are, of course, major musical contrasts between the Velvet Underground and Puttin' On The Ritz (PotR). Kevin Shea's hectic and inventive drums are very different from Mo Tucker's solid rhythms, while, apart from Moppa Elliott's bass, there is a distinct absence of stringed instruments in PotR's lineup. The horn section goes a long way towards giving these tunes a freshness that would not be on offer by simple repetition of the Velvet Underground's instrumentation. Shea, Elliott and saxophonist Jon Irabagon are also members of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and the musical relationship between the two bands is clear to hear on tracks like "Here She Comes Now."  
Proceedings get off to a cracking start with a mutated swing version of "White Light / White Heat." B J Rubin's voice is suitably frenetic and the horn section screams manfully. "I Heard Her Call My Name" gets similar treatment, Rubin's throaty vocal balanced by a lighter vocal response from his fellow band members over a ragged-edged set of riffs from the horns. "Here She Comes Now" features Rubin singing in a rather desultory fashion, mirrored by Irabagon's mournful sax, while trumpeter Nate Wooley and trombonist Sam Kulik add wilder and more aggressive phrases and Elliott contributes straightforward but affecting bass. The result is strangely beautiful.  
"The Gift" benefits from a simple but groovy trombone riff from Kulik. However, while the sad story of poor Waldo's miscalculation leapt from the original album thanks to the measured and concise narration delivered by John Cale in his finest Welsh accent; on this version Rubin's vocals are buried beneath the music and the finer aspects of the adventure are lost. The album's other "story song"—"Lady Godiva's Operation"—finds Rubin's vocals sitting on top of the music and the tale is much easier to follow. "Sister Ray" is a long, meandering, tune enlivened by Matt Mottel's punky, '60s-style keyboard work.  
White Light / White Heat is fun. It's not easy to tell just how far tongues are embedded in cheeks here, and Rubin's vocals are rather too one-dimensional much of the time; but the musicianship is high quality and inventive, the band's enthusiasm comes over strongly and the tales of the underbelly of 1960s New York remain as fascinating as ever.
Bruce Lindsay / All About Jazz

The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

Style: Garage Rock, Art Rock, Experimental, Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Verve Records ‎

A1.   Sunday Morning
A2.   I'm Waiting For The Man
A3.   Femme Fatale
A4.   Venus In Furs
A5.   Run, Run, Run
A6.   All Tomorrow's Parties
B1.   Heroin
B2.   There She Goes Again
B3.   I'll Be Your Mirror
B4.   Black Angel's Death Song
B5.   European Son To Delmore Schwartz

Brian Eno once stated that, despite hardly anyone buying this album on its release, everyone that did buy it seemed to have formed a band. Ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about one of the three most influential albums of all time (what are the other two? You work it out, dear reader). Without this slice of plastic there would have been no glam rock, no krautrock and no punk. If Lou and John hadn't decided to ditch their respective careers in order to blur the boundary between pop and avant garde there would have been no Stooges, Can, David Bowie (as we know him) or Roxy Music. Oh, and The Jesus And Mary Chain would have had no career whatsoever. Which is why this deluxe treatment is long overdue and entirely welcome.

The tale of how this masterpiece even made it into the racks has long since passed into the realms of legend - Andy Warhol spotting them at a New York club and offering to produce them (i.e. putting up the money). The way he foisted Teutonic femme fatale Nico onto the band and the way she proceeded to set Lou against John (by sleeping with and rejecting them both). The year-long delay before the album made it to the shops (by which time Warhol had lost interest) - It all boils down to one inescapable fact. Even by 1967 this was still frighteningly original music that had as little to do with pop or rock as Frank Zappa's first album, Freak Out (which, interestingly enough, was also produced by Tom Wilson). For the very first time a rock band were writing songs that were utterly nihilistic and seemed to come from the very flipside of the psychedelic love-fest that was (if you believed the hype) occurring everywhere else. Here was a group that knew of the depths of perversity to which people could sink and frankly sounded as if they didn't care either. Songs like "Heroin" or "Waiting For The Man" didn't simply hint, they graphically laid out the stories of degradation as if daring you to turn away.

It was all wrapped in a musical package that was as stark as its subjects. Reed's oddly scraped 'ostrich' guitar, Cale's droning viola and not least Mo Tucker's almost moronic proto-motorik drumming all added up to a canvas that even when set behind Nico's bored drone couldn't fail to alarm, if all you'd been listening to was the Beatles and their ilk. This release sees the addition, not only of the rare mono mix but the tracks recorded for Nico's first solo outing Chelsea Girls, with the band backing her. Strangely these extras serve to demonstrate, as with tracks such as "Sunday Morning" or "There She Goes Again" that the Velvets could always revert to pop parameters if needed. They just didn't want to.

Offerings as extreme as "The Black Angels Death Song" or "European Son" were always going to be the moments that really remained in the minds of those brave enough to experience this album. Not many did and unbelievably it remained a semi-obscurity long after its release, with only rock scribes and musicians enhancing its reputation by word of mouth. Acceptance as a 'classic' hasn't diminished its awesome power to shock and provoke one jot. If you've never heard it, your life will be changed. If you've already got it, it's still an essential purchase. A monument to the evil that men (and women) do.

Chris Jones  / BBC Review