The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Losing bassist/violist/crazy man John Cale didn’t quite destroy the Velvets, butit did deplete a bit of their personality. Replacement bass player Doug Yulewould never attain the kind of avant-pop mystique or noisy brashness that Calewas known for. Instead of Cale’s screeching viola runs and thumping basspummelings, we get Yule’s inoffensive pickings and calm backing vocals. Thoughthis ‘trade’ may make the Velvets seem less exciting on paper, they manage toretain their ultra-hip musical personality. Even if they can’t rock out as muchas they did before, they can still write a batch of super-focused pop songs.
‘Candy Says’ opens the record on a reserved note. Singer Lou Reed concentrateson a reality far less hectic than had ever been addressed in a VelvetUnderground song. In the past, we had characters struggling in hostile climatesin ‘Waiting for the Man’, raging on ‘Heroin’, and living recklessly simply for‘All tomorrow’s Parties’. In this song, Reed addresses a calmer, moreintrospective struggle. The seedy environments of the past have been replacedwith the tortured inner self of the present. While the music may not seem asimmediate, the emotive songwriting makes up for this.
Other songs, like the unlikely self-discovery of ‘Jesus’, reinforce this newemotive reality. ‘Help me in my weakness / ‘Cause I’ve fallen from grace’, thestatement is a plea for help. Album closer ‘After Hours’ takes all this straight-facedsensitivity and lays it all out on the table. Percussionist Moe Tucker sings asweet tune about love, ‘Oh, someday I know / Someone will look into my eyes andsay / ‘Hello, you’re my very special one’. The brilliance in this song, likemost others on this album lies in the straightforward sentiment.
‘The Murder Mystery’ plays out like ‘Sister Ray’, but instead of crashingguitars and sparking organs, we get the bizarre collision of simultaneousnarratives. Each band member lends their voices, both speaking and singing, toeither channel. Before the song is over, the group offers a brief rest with atinkling piano refrain. The voices return, as confusing and excited as ever. Asthe song ends, leading us to the beautiful closing song, we are left confused. Repeated listens will only confirm this strangeness, people speaking differentthings at the same time, seemingly nonsensical on their own. This statement isone of the album’s main lasting impressions on our minds, a puzzled and possiblyinfuriating feeling.
Containing some of the Velvet’s most affecting songs, this album is a greatprogression from their earlier works. An emotional monster, the VelvetUnderground’s third album leaves listeners with a great picture ofaccomplishment.
By: Tyler Martin
Published on: 2003-09-01