Review by Adam Pain
It’s odd how sometimes life throws a cruel curveball. Just as I was sitting down to write a celebratory article, reminding everyone about the sheer force of creativity that courses through the veins of The Velvet Underground and Nico’s debut album, the news feeds of social media delivered a punch that have taken the wind out of my sails.
The chief musical force of the album, sardonic genius Lou Reed, has died. The details have yet to surface, although it has been revealed that he received a liver transplant in May – but the details don’t really matter right now. All that matters is that we focus on two things: firstly to send a message of love, support and deepest sympathy to his family, and secondly, that we ensure that generations of music fans don’t forget about this starkly brilliant piece of work and know that a great part of it was down to this sometimes controversial but always engaging man.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I review the album that stands shoulder to shoulder with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Are You Experienced? as the most important rock albums of 1967. It is also an album that remains one of the best albums ever recorded. Firstly, it should be noted that the version I am reviewing is a brand new Blu-Ray audio release. The theoretical sound quality on offer is supposedly a great deal better than CD, with the audio coming from 96Khz / 24 bit masters. And it certainly sounds great – although I wouldn’t say that the audio is leagues ahead of the CD release, which had already been treated to a sumptuous and sensitive mastering session. However, the top end glistens – and the raw, spiky menace of the record is gloriously rendered here. Plus, the Blu-ray box and accompanying booklet feels more substantial than the flimsy jewel case and dog-eared booklet that I have poured over for so many years. If the price point of these discs is right, I can see myself wanting to own a few more – I am thoroughly bored of the lifelessness and intangibility of an awful lot of downloaded or streamed content. This beats the crap out of mp3/m4a, that is for sure.
Now, a brief warning. For those of you who don’t know it, this isn’t an easy album to chew. The strange layers of dissonance, howling viola parts, odd vocal delivery and bizarre sense of menace pervade. Yet, whilst on paper it shouldn’t work, something magical binds the parts together. The most famous track on the album, the eerie ‘Venus in Furs’, is one of the more accessible moments, yet it is not alone as a highlight. Tracks ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and ‘Heroin’ have lost none of their ability to unnerve, but picking favourite tracks in isolation is hard – because it is very much an album in my eyes. So, I am glad that Universal has felt fit to polish up a true treasure for a new generation of fans. I just wish it didn’t coincide with such a sad occasion.
RIP Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013)