White Light/White Heat (45th Anniversary Edition)
If you want to be simple about it, White Light/White Heat is The Velvet Underground’s noise album: The performances are aggressive, the sound is broken and overdriven, and the mood is perpetually tense. Even its quieter songs—“Lady Godiva’s Operation” and “Here She Comes Now”—sound like they’re covered in grime that can’t quite be scrubbed away. It can be ugly and confrontational, and it might make you wonder, ‘Is this any fun?’ Lou Reed says the album’s engineer was so put off by the 18-minute “Sister Ray” that he left to get coffee, complaining that no amount of money was worth listening to that crap. But in the same way that some Japanese pottery makes its warped edges and rough surfaces part of the spirit of the bowl, the revolution of White Light/White Heat is how it makes the grime inseparable from the music itself—the object that becomes perfect in its imperfections. The album’s influence on punk is profound. But it also put into the air the concept of rock music that finds freedom in extremity and sees no fault in doing things wrong—a legacy that runs through home-recorded indie rock, experimental noise, left-of-center heavy metal, and just about any other style that uses abrasiveness as a gateway to the sublime. Bassist/organist/violist John Cale later called it “consciously anti-beauty.” The reality is more profound: White Light/White Heat doesn’t destroy beauty; it redefines it.