Release Date: Nov 24, 2014
Record label: Universal
Forty quid or more for a box set in which three of the six discs are more or less unnecessary might seem a bit steep. After all, anyone likely to splash out on this edition of the third Velvet Underground album – the sedate, pensive one – might already have both the Val Valentin and “closet” mixes of the album from previous box sets and reissues, and a new third mono mix adds nothing of note. But that reckons without the confounding brilliance of the other three discs.
When Lou Reed talks about "the sorrows of the contemporary world, which I know we all know so well" during a 1969 live performance included in this magnificent six-CD repackaging of the Velvet Underground's pivotal third album, he could be introducing virtually any song on the record. Recorded after the departure of band co-founder John Cale, it was the apotheosis of Reed the singer-poet, with gorgeous melodies supporting center-stage lyrics. "Candy Says" and "Pale Blue Eyes" may be Reed's most quietly heart-wrenching songs, "Jesus" and "After Hours" his tenderest, "Beginning To See The Light" his most deliciously hopeful, followed closely by "What Goes On" and its exquisite multi-tracked guitar solo – a contender for Reed's best ever.
Many recording artists release a self-titled debut album, while some opt to release a self-titled album later in their career, and others even go on to release multiple self-titled albums. But the Velvet Underground are the only band to have released multiple self-titled debuts. Technically, their first album was 1967’s The Velvet Underground & Nico, a bracing collision of Brill Building pop classicism and avant-garde noise terrorism that, by the time White Light/White Heat was released in 1968, had progressed to all-out warfare.
The Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground. This band’s eponymous 1969 release, so different from 1968’s White Light/White Heat, is the sound of a band finding clarity through subtraction. Gone was John Cale, and with him the grinding viola and most of the avant-garde leanings he brought to the forefront.
Box sets are usually a way to re-affirm established narratives around classic albums and artists. But this new, six-disc collection built around the Velvet Underground's self-titled third album makes the case that we've spent the past 45 years listening to the record wrong.In his forthcoming article about the album, "The Acoustemology of the Closet," art historian Godfrey Leung argues that The Velvet Underground, released in 1969, has long been regarded as the group's singer-songwriter album, a product of Lou Reed taking over after John Cale's ouster from the band. This was bolstered by producer Val Valentin's mix, which mirrored the sound of the day's commercially minded singer-songwriters.
After similarly definitive editions of The Velvet Underground’s first two albums, here comes a 6CD, 65-track account of The Velvet Underground’s self-titled third long-player, released in 1969 – the year in which they lost founder member John Cale, replaced him with bassist Doug Yule, recorded enough material for two albums and became a seasoned touring act. While Cale had encouraged the band to explore their most avant-garde tendencies on White Light/White Heat, his departure left Lou Reed as the VU’s principal creative force at a point where Reed’s songwriting was at its most melodically pure and reflective. As a result, The Velvet Underground features some of Reed’s strongest work; few will need reminders of the melancholy bliss of Candy Says and Pale Blue Eyes.