Friday, January 16, 2009

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat

I was a late-comer to the converts of the Velvet Underground – I didn’t learn about them until after Lou hit big with his David Bowie-produced Transformer album. Actually a friend turned me on to them (thanks, Kenne!) because he thought that my teenage, over-driven attempts at Hendrix psychedelia sounded more like Lou in the Velvets! In any case, once I discovered the first couple of records, I was blown away!

This, the band’s second record, shows some evolution from the debut. Nico has disappeared, apparently after affairs with both Lou & John Cale, and the band has become a separate entity and no longer part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Inevitable. There is plenty of experimentation here still, but also more of a “band” feel – at least to my ears.

Opening with the iconoclastic title track, Lou writes a straight r’n’r tune – one that is twisted and drug-addled and performed by degenerates, but still a pure rocker, as was evidenced by the numerous later cover versions.

Following this, though, is 8 minutes of glorious noise in “The Gift”. In one channel John Cale recites a tale of stalker-ish love while in the other channel the band explores musical madness over a basic beat. This way you could either simply hear the story or, if you got bored with that, simply hear the feedback-drenched musical odyssey.

Cale weaves another narrative in “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, about a sex-change. The group churns along behind him and Lou plays some nice guitar parts in the tune without a chorus and Lou oddly interrupts Cale's vocals with a couple of phrases, for no apparent reason. Still, this manages to be a great, memorable piece of music.

Lou takes front & center again for a song of female sexuality (or frigidness), “If She Evers Comes Now”. This is quite melodic in both the vocals and the backing and is a superb, short tune.

Probably the masterpiece of the album is “Heard Her Call My Name” – pure high energy punk pounding with utterly crazed, feedback laden guitars accenting the line “then I felt my mind split open” and this is truly the aural equivalent of that! Scarily beautiful to the extreme! This is so gorgeous that it sends shivers down my spine!

Rounding out the record is the extended, organ-driven jam of “Sister Ray”, another wonderful noise-fest with Lou ranting about a girl who is “sucking on my ding dong” and that they “couldn’t hit it sideways”. At 17-1/2 minutes, I sometimes think this goes on a little long but at other times it seems like it should go on longer!

These cats were demented as hell, but managed to combine art with r’n’r and not be pretentious (at least not in a bad way!) and managed to influence almost everyone for the next several decades – and continues to do so! Anyone who is serious about their love for r’n’r needs this record!