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Rare Velvet Underground re-issued

VU, the Velvet Underground on Verve Records.

The Velvet Underground were art-rockers before that was a trendy thing to be, combining wall-of-noise descriptions of a sex-and-drug-fueled netherworld with passionate folk-rock ballads. Predictably, their association with Andy Warhol and recording of songs like "Heroin" (which many supposedly progressive radio stations still won't touch) precluded any sort of commercial success for the group.

Fifteen years after the band's breakup, in this supposedly more enlightened age, MGM/Verve decided to re-release the Velvets' albums The Velvet Underground and Nico (with the infamous peel-away Warhol banana sticker), White Light/White Heat (perhaps one of the most inaccessible records ever released on a major label), and The Velvet Underground. In the process, a number of tapes turned up which had been recorded for the legendary never-released "Lost Velvet Underground Album." Ten of these songs, suitably remixed, became VU.

This could be the band's best album; it's certainly the most accessible. Most of the numbers are known to hard-core Velvet fans through bootleg recordings, and a few (most notably "Andy's Chest") turned up on solo albums by Lou Reed. "I Can't Stand It," which has been receiving an awful lot of local airplay lately, is classic Velvet Underground in both its desperate lyrics and its simple-but-catchy bass riff. "Stephanie Says" and "Ocean" represent the lilting, folksy side of the Velvets which so few remember, while "One of These Days" clearly illustrates the influence this band's work had on early Eno, Bowie, and Roxy Music work.

It can easily be argued that the release of this album represents a strictly commercial decision (that is, if people buy VU and like it, a reasonable market may eventually develop for more difficult-to-appreciate works like White Light/White Heat); nevertheless VU is a record that no Velvet Underground fan should pass up. And those who've been scared away by the band's undeserved negative reputation will be pleasantly surprised.

V. Michael Bove->