Friday, October 22, 2010

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat

Release Dates: January 30, 1968

★★★★★ Tracks:

White Light / White Heat

Here She Comes Now

White Light/White Heat takes all those noisy and abrasive moments from Velvet Underground’s first record and turns them in to six completely chaotic, experimental, amphetamine fuled songs. “The Gift” is an eight minute long spoken-word track (first ever?) written by Lou Reed and told by John Cale. It’s an incredibly odd, frightening yet interesting tale about a young man who dotes over his girlfriend who took off for college so much so, he decides to ship himself to her as a surprise, but something goes awfully wrong. The story is told through the left speaker, while an instrumental is played on the right side. “Sister Ray” is an improvisational, one take, 17-minute long bender, full of feedback, avant-jazz solos, and broken lyrics focusing on drugs, violence and sex. The other four tracks are shorter offerings, but the amplifiers are turned up to 11 on all but one, and they were specifically focused on “anti-beauty.” Sterling Morrison said, "We were all pulling in the same direction. We may have been dragging each other off a cliff, but we were all definitely going in the same direction. In the White Light/White Heat era, our lives were chaos. That’s what’s reflected in the record."

Admittedly I don’t visit White Light/White Heat as much as a self-proclaimed Velvet Underground fan should. Sure this is the Velvet Underground at their most primal and possibly most influential state; the noisiest band of the 60’s managed to get noisier, and they don’t hold back in pushing pop and rock to entirely new boundaries, but the album as a whole isn’t as listenable as their other three proper full lengths. With Andy Warhol and Nico out of the picture the Velvet Underground seemed to lose their pop sensibilities, and all the changes within the band; the drugs, the tireless touring, the internal struggles between Cale and Reed seemingly culminated in to the six destructive, wayward, interesting but challenging songs contained within. But the Velvet Underground's weakest offering is better than most other band's highlights. The title track is what happens when you take a piano-driven saloon song and mix it with a fuzzy garage band. Lou Reed’s story in “The Gift” is pretty damned interesting, and we get a preview of what’s to come on their next album in the quiet “Here She Comes Now."

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