The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

Listening to The Velvet Underground can feel like walking into a small, late-night gathering with close friends: It’s warm, it’s fuzzy, it’s a little imprecise. But in that imprecision is a sense of quiet epiphany, the feeling of revelation that forms around moments you might otherwise miss. There’s laughter in it (“Beginning to See the Light”), and there’s tenderness, too (“Pale Blue Eyes”). But there’s also a reckoning with big questions about doubt (“I’m Set Free”), purpose (“Jesus”), and how we share our inner selves with the outside world (“Candy Says”) that runs deeper than the album’s sweetness lets on.  Lou Reed said that White Light/White Heat was, in part, a reaction to the delusions of hippie culture—the way free love led to broken hearts and supposedly innocent drug use devolved into people too disconnected from reality to function. But if the band has a psychedelic album—not in the carnivalesque sense, but in the sense of pointing one on a strange personal journey—this is it. The shift is radical: After two albums of noise and rebellion, they sit down on the carpet and open themselves to quieter thoughts. Sterling Morrison said part of the change had to do with the departure of John Cale, which left Reed free to explore his sensitive side: If Morrison had written something as romantic as “Pale Blue Eyes,” he teased Reed, he wouldn’t have forced Reed to play it, but he also wouldn’t fight with him about it. He later described Reed’s original mix of the album (included on the deluxe 45th anniversary edition) as the “Closet Mix,” because it made the music sound like it was recorded in a closet: safe, private, secret. And Reed described “Some Kinda Love” as a conversation between two very drunk people who talk their way through the fog to some obvious conclusions. The Velvet Underground is music made at a close distance, but just out of focus enough to keep mystery intact. “I don’t know just what it’s all about,” he sings. “But put on your red pajamas and find out.” 

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