The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

Polydor Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Gordon T. Gekko


A few weeks ago, when the whole Clinton mess was at the zenith of media attention, I remember reading a story about a dinner at the White House. The president gave some speech about how much the Velvet Underground's music influenced him in college, and then Lou Reed played a half-dozen songs from the era. Regardless of the truth that lies in Clinton's aliegiance to the Velvet Underground, I think it says something about the band's strange impact on our collective music culture.

In recent years, this post-grunge wasteland in which we exist has been yearning for a miracle, a honest-to-god freshness to be given to our dismal climate. Maybe we are looking too far out on the horizon, when we should be looking all around us. By now, it's cliché to say that every major new band is invariably placed upon this touchstone, and that their impact on the music word, for the bands themselves, ranks up there with Dylan, and the Beatles, but everyone seems to forget one thing: these guys couldn't sell an album in exchange for their mortal souls.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I remember that scene in The Doors when Val Kilmer is invited up to Andy Warhol's loft, and amidst the heroin addicts and would-be artistic protege, the band plays, subdued, at the back of the room, where you wouldn't even notice them if they weren't there. That's a little how the band ranks, even today, in rock history. Okay, enough acid-trip rambling, on with the album.

Like all truly great albums, The Velvet Underground is special not because of the songs, but because of the dreamscape it evokes. This unified song-cycle speaks in a forked tongue. On the surface, Reed's songs are engaging, and often even uplifting, but there is a dark undercurrent beneath each song. This is the secret college world of heartache, drugs, suicide, longing, and small, unseen redemptions. Gone are the freaky, pop-art sensibilities of the first album, and the experimental sonic assault of the second. This is Reed's word at it's most bare and devastatingly stripped-down.

The hungover sexual delirium of this album may be off-putting to some listeners at some points, and maybe that's what makes the band so enduring. They may not have always made good music, but they never, ever compromised. It takes at least three listens to get into the true heart of the album, but once it starts to come together, it makes everything seem almost too real. My generation of slackers and would-be artists is often criticized for living on TV. As the children of the first generation to grow up on television, maybe it's imbedded in our DNA that we all want to be stars. We'll grow out of it, eventually, and become lawyers, and accountants. Maybe that's what the sex scandals, fifty-percent cigarette taxes, and talk-show bans are all about, a backlash against decadent sin, the dues we must pay to inherit our world. And as we navigate this minefield of psuedo-morality and unknown hatred, this album is as good a map as any.

Rating: A

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© 1998 Gordon T. Gekko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polydor Records, and is used for informational purposes only.