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The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground

Massively expanded 45th-anniversary edition of third Velvets album.

The Velvets’ first album without John Cale allowed Lou Reed free rein to exhibit his highly tuned pop sensibilities to full effect. Cale’s replacement, Doug Yule, handles lead vocals on scene-setting bittersweet opener Candy Says (one of Reed’s finest songs) and the reason for his recruitment becomes immediately clear. Though their previous debut and White Light/White Heat albums have subsequently changed the musical landscape significantly, they simply didn’t sell at the time of their original release.

In order for the band to sustain any kind of career they needed to optimise their commerciality and fast, so just as the timelessly gorgeous Pale Blue Eyes appeared to be infinitely more marketable than WL/WH’s Sister Ray, so fresh-faced, clear-voiced 22-year-old Lou-alike Yule promised far more pop-star potential than fractious, cawing, chemically-encumbered Reed, who was already 27 (which in youthcentric 60s terms was akin to having one cuban heel in the knacker’s yard and the other on a discarded Warhol banana skin).

While Yule’s presence does sweeten the Velvets sound (Mo Tucker’s hypnotic metronomy, Sterling Morrison’s oft-overlooked lightness of touch), VU is still Lou’s album.

Sure there are moments that border on the twee – That’s The Story Of My Life – but the brooding sexuality of Some Kinda Love, quadrophonic maelstrom of Murder Mystery and charming sweetness of the Tucker-voiced After Hours make for an album that – especially with the addition of two extra mixes, two CDs live at The Matrix and a 14-track imagineering of the ‘Lost’ Velvets fourth album – can only ever be recommended as essential./o:p

Ian Fortnam

Commissioning both album reviews and live reviews, Classic Rock reviews editor Ian has been fearlessly filtering the rock from the cock since 2003.