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Not My Favorite V.U. Album Ever Released, But It's A Damn Good One!
Written: Sep 1, 2010
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:The songwriting is mostly excellent
Cons:I have trouble connecting with some of it
The Bottom Line: Without a doubt, one of the great classics of rock 'n' roll, and probably revolutionary in the lyrical department. And you know what? Good tunes, too. Every collection needs this.
(Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what they're looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review might not be written by the point of view of a Velvet Underground fan.)
Overall Score: 12/15
Best song: “Candy Says”
Worst song: “I'm Set Free”
Oh my oh my. If you're listing to the Velvet Underground discography in order for the first time, you might be wondering if this was even the same band. ...That is, apart from Lou Reed's deadpan vocals, which are indistinguishable from any other rock vocalist's around the world. The stylistic leap is bound to strike anyone as odd; after they ended their previous album intentionally trying to drive anyone who listened to it crazy with the messy and raucous “Sister Ray,” they begin this album with the slowest and sleepiest pop song imaginable, “Candy Says.”
Naturally, The Velvet Underground were no strangers to pop music—their debut album was full of that. But they had never done anything that straightforward before. The only instruments they use are some jangle-ish guitars and a very subdued drum beat. These songs are so cramped and closed in that it sounds like it was done on somebody's deathbed. This so-called “closeted” quality of these songs is something these guys did intentionally, apparently. I'm not such a fan of this sound, and truth be told I don't really see the benefit of it.
Most importantly, this is where Velvet Underground started to really get interesting and introspective with their lyrics. (I'm not going to go much into detail about the lyrics, since that's something that people should try to interpret for themselves. Also, I'm quite lazy and don't feel much like writing out my detailed interpretations!) Specifically, this is where Lou Reed really started to blossom as a lyricist. It's for that very reason, I'd imagine, that many fans cite this as the best Velvet Underground album, and they have a good point.
Just because the album starts with a slow number it doesn't mean they had forgotten how to do rock 'n' roll! In fact, you'll get a hearty dose of rock 'n' roll as a reward for bearing through that opening number. (Not that the opening number isn't excellent... it is, of course, among the finest slow rock songs ever composed.) “What Goes On” is a terrific, virtually straitforward rock 'n' roll number with a catchy, crunchy and almost funky riff and a vocal melody that will get stuck in your head. The exact same thing can be said for “Beginning to See the Light,” which shows that these guys were very consistent.
“Jesus” is an effective piece for religious people who like to pray or meditate. But of course, many people who do that probably wouldn't listen to this album in the first place because it opens with a song about a transexual. Nonetheless, it's quite a genuine piece with simple lyrics that repeat “Jesus, help me find my proper place / help me in my weakness, because I've fallen out of grace.” Somehow, these words sound more believable coming out of Lou Reed than it would ever coming out of Garth Brooks! Go figure.
I've also always had a soft spot for the album's experimental piece, “The Murder Mystery,” which I'd imagine non-music-geeks would consider an overlong jumble. Intermittently, it features a disjointed and somewhat pop-tune and an unintelligible spoken word portion in which two people speak over each other. It's nine minutes long, and it's weird. I like it, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps I'm getting weird subliminal messages from it? At any rate, these nine minutes entertain me.
While this album unquestionably earns its place in Velvet Underground's list of achievements and I understand why many people list this as their favorite of them (in particular people who love lyrics more than anything in pop music), it doesn't quite move me as much as their debut did. That album seemed to have more moments that hit me over the head than this one does by comparison. Nonetheless, any good rock album collection ought to have this gem in it nonetheless. Both because this is the place where Lou Reed started to blossom as a lyricist, and these melodies are mostly great. I'll also reiterate (because this is important!!) that if you found White Light / White Head off-putting, don't let that keep you from picking up their follow-up. They're entirely different beasts.
Candy Says A
I don't know about you, but this song is a *pleasant* shock. After attempting to digest the closing song from White Light / White Heat, the last thing I would have expected to hear is this sleepy and extremely slowly paced, jangly folk tune. The melody, sung by newcomer Doug Yule, is so solid and catchy that it rivals (but doesn't quite exceed, in my opinion) the best stuff from their debut album. The lyrics are quite good, centering around the thoughts of a transvestite (“Candy says, I've come to hate my body / and all that requires in this world / Candy says, I'd like to know completely / what all the souls discretely talk about”)
What Goes On A
This is one of the faster paced, rock 'n' roll numbers, and it's quite good. The guitars crunch along in an appealing manner, and the upbeat melody is catchy and fun to listen to. There's a hint at their past when they let some long-drawn-out guitars take over a solo in the middle of it, but there's almost no distortion to be seen. There's a simple organ playing basic chords in the background, which isn't much, but it adds body to the song. As a whole, this song is almost normal, but it still has that weird edge to it that makes it stick apart from the standard songs.
Some Kinda Love B+
This is one reason why I can't quite agree with some critics' assessments that this album is better than their debut. While this song isn't bad through any stretch of the imagination, it's rather monotonous and uninteresting, which is a stark contrast to how rich and powerful I found the songs on their debut album. This is based on a repetitive mid-tempo guitar groove while Lou Reed talk-sings (in that Lou Reed way) through the lyrics. They use wobbly guitars to create that groove, which gives it a texture.
Pale Blue Eyes A
This is similar to “Candy Says.” It's a very, very slow ballad. Also like “Candy Says,” it has an excellent melody! Lou Reed takes on the lead vocals this time, and he delivers the lyrics with a convincing warmth to them. They're not too complicated, at first anyway, but the delivery makes it sound genuine. (“Sometimes I feel so happy / Sometimes I feel so sad / Sometimes I feel so happy / But mostly you just make me mad / Baby you just make me mad / Linger on, your pale blue eyes.”) The guitars, once again, are playing a monotonous groove, but this time they succeed in hypnotizing me. This is nearly six minutes long and I swear I hardly notice the time flying by.
What do these heathens know about Jesus?!?! Actually, this song is potentially much more useful to religious people than the vast majority of CCM songs I hear. Lou Reed has a way of singing as though he genuinely means it, and here he sounds like he's searching desperately for meaning to his life through Jesus. (“Jesus, help me find my proper place / Help me in my weakness / 'Cause I'm falling out of grace.”) So, there you go. From the same guy who sings about sucking on ding-dongs.
Beginning to See the Light A
After singing about Jesus, he's singing about seeing the light? Perhaps this shows these guys were closet Christians. Anyway, this is yet another one of those great Velvet Underground tunes. Its melody is simple but effective and memorable. The somewhat monotonous, chuggy texture seems like a watered down version of “I'm Waiting For the Man,” and I kind of like that they revisited those ideas and applied it to somewhat more poppier music.
I'm Set Free B-
Not my particular cup of tea, this one. It's very slow and dreary with the flooded guitars that overshadow the vocals. The drumming is similarly uninteresting, particularly in the 'instrumental interlude,' which just chugs along at a monotonous pace. Given that this is The Velvet Underground, I have to assume that they did all of this on purpose and it was all for art. I can appreciate it, but in this case I'm not completely with them.
That's the Story of My Life B+
Quite a bit more pleasant and poppy than the previous song, which I appreciate of course, but it doesn't seem to want to be anything beyond that. It's devoid of emotion. Then again, maybe that was the point. The story of his life was devoid of emotion.
The Murder Mystery A
For some reason, this has always been my favorite of The Velvet Underground's weird experimental pieces even though it's nine minutes long and I don't understand a word of it. It goes back and forth between a purposefully amateurishly sung song and some very sped up talking. The song is simple, consisting of two people singing over each other and a disjointed organ groove, and the talking is completely unintelligible. The final third consists of a strange piano groove and more of that talking. So much for ever learning the outcome of this murder mystery! I'm not exactly sure why I like this. Maybe it's the mildly catchy (mostly because it's extremely simple and repetitive) melody as well as the freaky atmosphere. But as it is, it's nine minutes long, and I could take it even longer.
After Hours A-
Quite a good old timey tune sung by Maureen Tucker, who is by all standards, pretty much a non-singer. But I suppose having a non-singer perform such a derivative song gives it an extra dimension. Nonetheless, it has a nice tune, so I couldn't possibly hate it.
While not my favorite Velvet Underground album by any stretch of the imagination, it's a good one. Naturally, it's a necessity for any collection.
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