Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Velvet Underground
Peel Slowly And See

Released 1995 on Polygram
Reviewed by Michael-Kim, 06/03/2002ce

The painter Paul Gauguin once said, "There are only two kinds of artists: the plagiarists and the revolutionaries." Now when it comes to The Velvet Underground, anyone even slightly familar with their work should have no problem guessing which of these two descriptions is more appropriate.

No doubt, VU were one of the most important, original, and vital groups ever to emerge out of the twentieth century. They were, in turn, one of the most counter-cultural, dark and visceral, lyrically poetic as well as melodically catchy bands on the planetary rock 'n' roll scene of the late 1960s. Whether calm and sitting-on-the-porch mellow or noisier-than-a-subway-train, VU could go easily from one extreme to another, depending on the song. Even with the same song, this band could flawlessly combine joy & sorrow, goofiness & horror, pitch-black midnight one moment and the noon's sunlight in another, VU's artitistic range should never be overlooked by anyone, especially those interested in music/lyrics that can present the full range of humanity's reachings, callings, pleadings, and compromises. And all of this over four short albums, plus other unreleased material, at that! What a legacy....

So, tell me, why wouldn't a box set of every album they released, plus some priceless rarities, be welcomed into your household? The answer: There could be no possible excuse, unless you will also confess to a basic indifference toward the primary aspirations of humanity in your outlook. Only then, would your rejection of VU's music make sense to me. They are a band that noone should easily push aside....

Again, this box set covers VU's major albums, which include The Velvet Underground & Nico (March 1967), White Light/White Heat (January 1968), The Velvet Underground (March 1969), Loaded (September 1070), as well as some previously unreleased demos, live versions, outtakes, and some material later to be released as VU (February 1985). This multi-album should satisfy collector-completists as well as common fans. It, also, works as a perfect introduction to someone who's yet to become obsessed by this mavellously unprecedented band. Get going and get it, brothers and sisters, and help your neighbors get it too.

Now, for a little background.

In 1965, VU arrived kicking and screaming into the godforsaken cityscapes of New York City, born out of its rotten but inspirational womb. Though definitely coming out of the bohemian currents that were around at that time, mainly the Beats and the downtown art world, VU were in many ways pre-dating the sonic experiments of the soon prevalent hippie movement, albeit without its utopian elements or glossy-eyed "save-the-world" attitudes.

The definitive lineup from 1965 - 68 was Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen 'Moe' Tucker. Reed -- who under the influence of early rock 'n' roll, doo-wop groups, and the poetry of Delmore Schwartz -- brought a confrontational realism to his well-crafted lyrics, also writing compellingly catchy songs yet with blistering guitarwork. He got together with John Cale -- an avant garde viola player and electric bass player with one foot in the blazing freedom of whisky-rock and the other in the massive post-classical drones of La Monte Young -- who brought an experimental vibe to everything he and Reed did together. In fact, the "third mind" created by Reed and Cale's musical collaboration recalls the brilliance of, say, a McCartney and Lennon, in how they fed off of each other, constantly pushing each other further into uncharted territories. But VU could not have covered so many expressive dimensions without the masterful guitarwork of Sterling Morrison, who weaved kaleidoscopic R & B picking patterns around Reed's songs or the androgynous drummer Maureen Tucker's proto-punk primitivism, pounding and beating those skins like a banshee. Also, don't forget, Doug Yule who took over bass duties when Cale left the band in '68, extending the foundation of early VU's work even further into Reed's songwriterly direction. And his brother Billy Yule who took over the drums on Loaded when Tucker left the group. But cursed above all are you if you underestimate the role as 'unofficial member' the lovely ice goddess Nico was to the group, who added her wondrous vocals to their first Andy Warhol produced album.

Here's a brief survey through some of their songs, that can take the listener through so many different emotional landscapes, as follow:
Draw you into a hazy shadowplay of numb disconnectedness and illusions of freedom ("Sunday Morning"; "I'm Set Free"; "Candy Says") [1], make you want to run naked and screaming down your street , craving more life, more drama ("I Heard Her Call My Name"; "What Goes On"; "Run, Run,Run"; "European Son") [2], empower you to articulate your own soul sickness and mental degradation with such a scientific precision, that the possibility of seeing beyond your present limits makes liberation seem eventual ("Heroin"; "I'm Waiting For My Man"; ICan't Stand It Anymore") [3], give you a good timin', even lackadaisical, listening experience, ala the almost 'bubblegum' rhymes and rhythms of some of their material ("Foggy Notion";"I'm Sticking With You"; Temptation Inside Of Your Heart"; "One Of These Days") [4], forays into the dark downtown underworld of gender confusion, self-consciously perverted sex, and gloriously destructive socialite fancies ("Sister Ray" ;"Venus In Furs; "All Tomorrow's Parties") [5], quests for taking advantage of love's fleeting opportunities, heartfully adoring those crippled in soul, hoping for unions that could never last, looking for the lighthouse of love while tossed in the storm ("Some Kinda Love";"Ill Be Your Mirror"; "Pale Blue Eyes"; "Femme Fatale" ; "There She Goes Again"; "Sweet Jane"; "Satellite Of Love") [6], a calling out for a baptism of faith, hope, and love after experiencing how fucked up the world really is ("Jesus"; "The Black Angel's Death Song"; "Ocean"; "Beginning To See The Light") [7], as you can cleary see, I could go on ad infinitum ... but, luckily, I won't. I'm sure Mr. Reed would be telling me to shut up by now, but hopefully these brief descriptions will give plenty of evidence of VU's encyclopedic and epic scope, second to none.

To perceive the genius that VU showed throughout their career, much more than merely once or twice, should make everyone loose some sleep. It should make each one of us stay up all night wondering what our own particular genius might be, because when coming face-to-face with VU's extraordinary power we realize that some people, out there, have found theirs...

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