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The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground Deluxe Edition and Super Deluxe Edition
Universal Records

The 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of Velvet Underground's debut album was released in the autumn of 2012 along with a shorter double CD bargain version. The second album White Light/White Heat was given a similar treatment the following autumn and - surprise-surprise - the third eponymous album was due last November, in time for the Christmas rush.

By the end of September 1968 academically trained John Cale (bass, viola, organ and vocals) was told to leave the band. By early October Doug Yule (bass, organ and vocals) was installed as his successor and the band was back on the road. The album was recorded in Los Angeles in November and December and released in March the following year. For those only familiar with the more famous first two Velvet albums, the third might come as a shock. It is mild, relaxed and even close to optimistic in between. Gone were the distorted mayhem of "Sister Ray" on White Light/White Heat. This is quite as opposite from the predecessor as can be.

Here are five more or less soft ballads, two pretty neat rock numbers, one close to a country & western pastiche and two odd ditties. Most special is "The Murder Mystery" where Lou Reed and the second guitarist Sterling Morrison read two different poems at the same time, one in each channel on the stereo versions of the album, over a repetitive droning backing followed by drummer Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule singing more harmoniously, one in each channel, before Lou and Sterling returns and so on. The ... eh ... song is finished with the closest we get to ugly sounds on the album when a pretty piano grows more and more wild. "After Hours" is Maureen's debut as solo singer, sounding a bit like a 17 year old girl's first attempt to record her own song at home. The more you listen to it, the more sweet, innocent and charming it sounds. "Candy Says" that opens the album is another not being sung by its writer Lou Reed. The vocals by Doug is softer than if Lou had taken the lead, and it suits Candy Darling's story better: 'Candy says, I've come to hate my body, And all that it requires in this world'. Candy was a transvestite-actresses and one of the so-called "Superstars" at Andy Warhol's studio The Factory in New York, where Velvet Underground had been the house band the previous years. "Jesus" is another beauty, probably the sweetest plead to the man ever written by one with a Jewish upbringing:

Jesus, help me find my proper place
Jesus, help me find my proper place
Help me in my weakness
'Cos I'm falling out of grace
Jesus
Jesus

"Pale Blue Eyes" is a sweet declaration of love, but with serious doubts. Probably the most classic Velvet ballad there is. The two most typical rock songs here "What Goes On" and "Beginning To See The Light" are not that special for Velvet Underground. But they're really cool and couldn't work in this way by anyone else than the Velvets or Lou Reed solo. The two remaining songs "Some Kinda Love" and "I'm Set Free" includes something close to ballad stuff with harder rock elements in between. The bass drum at the start of the latter even gives reverberations of Velvet's maybe strongest effort ever, "Venus In Furs" off the debut.

coverpic The new Super Deluxe Edition includes a hard cover book of 72 pages with an essay about the album and the band's whereabout in the autumn 1968 and most of 1969, lots of great photos of the band members, posters, concert tickets and ads. The first three of the six CDs contain three different mixes of the original album with three bonus tracks, including the mono single off the album, a short version of "What Goes On" backed with "Jesus". The so called closet mix of disc 2 by Lou and engineer Val Valentin was an attempt to give the listener the illusion of sitting right in front of the band in a small room. This stereo mix was used on the initial pressings of the album in 1969. It was soon substituted with a more common one done by Val on his own that occupies disc 1 here. There's also a promotional mono mix (disc 3). The three of them sound quite similar to me. There's a story in the essay that Lou recorded the guitar solo of "What Goes On" three times and they couldn't decide which to use in the mix. Both Maureen and Doug recall that they were the one to suggest to use all three solo tracks and they all seem to be present on the three mixes. Disc 4 collects 14 songs recorded by the quartet in New York in 1969 that was never released at the time, the so called lost fourth Velvet Underground LP. A couple of the songs were recorded anew the following year for the Loaded album, most notably "Rock & Roll". 1969 versions have been bootlegged but were finally released officially in 1985 and 1986 on the compilations VU and Another View along with other previously unreleased gems. Some of them were also present on the double CD version of Loaded called Fully Loaded from 1997. Pretty interesting for those who don't own the aforementioned albums or want to single out the 1969-recordings among them. Less interesting for those who the Super Deluxe edition probably is aimed at, that have know them by heart for some decades...

The last two discs include live recordings from the club The Matrix in San Francisco on 26. and 27. November 1969. Of the 18 tracks, eleven are previously unreleased, six surfaced on the double LP 1969, The Velvet Underground Live originally released in 1974 and a 37 minutes version of "Sister Ray" was included on a live boxed set called The Quine Tapes from 2001. The set contains 17 songs from all the first four Velvet albums and the lost fourth one. It seems we are treated with different recordings from The Matrix of some of the songs also available on the 1969 live album. The most interesting among them is probably a longer version of "Over You". This song has only been available on the 1969 live album previously. The performances are characterised by fairly neat sounding guitars with less distortion than could be expected. Even "Sister Ray" sounds fairly nice, at least in between. The new Deluxe 2 CD set of The Velvet Underground includes disc 1 of the Super Deluxe Edition and 12 highlights from the last two discs of live recordings, but only half of them previously unreleased.

There we are, a grey little album judged by the cover. It was even less commercially successful than its two predecessors and never charted despite containing more easily available songs than the first two. Although being relatively soft and sweet, the production is far from the hi-fi kind. It has the rougher edges that also characterises the debut. Along with The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground easily fits into my top 50 list of greatest albums of all times and of course deserves its expanded versions. But I guess the Super Deluxe Edition might be indispensable only for the fanatics and completists. For others a cheaper version of the album will do fine.

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You may also want to check out our Velvet Underground articles/reviews: The Velvet Underground & Nico : Deluxe Edition, White Light/White Heat - Deluxe/Super Deluxe Edition.

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