Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (1969; 2013 reissue)

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There had been, sprinkled amongst the nihilistic junkie-pop, moments of avant-garde noise on 1967’s Velvet Underground and Nico. But nothing, really, to prepare you for this ferocious cacophony.

It’s been said that producer Tom Wilson, who took over after the twin departures of actress-turned-chanteuse Nico and band sponsor Andy Warhol, actually left during the inner ear-rearranging sessions for “Sister Ray,” just one of the many tension-lathered, darkly abrasive exclamations to be found on the Velvet Underground’s thunderous 1969 followup.

White Light/White Heat, now boasting a slew of rare outtakes and unreleased material, is set for a bulked-up reissue on December 2, 2013 via Universal. What you hear, both in the album’s gritty focus on noise making and in the late Lou Reed and Company’s stubborn refusal to play by the rules, is the first flowerings of the looming DIY movement — some eight years before anybody had put a label on such things. If the project couldn’t be described as especially listenable for your average fan of so-called classic rock, then it’s easy to see why White Light/White Heat has remained so critically beloved. This is the sound of a band drawing determinedly outside the lines.

The songs, principally composed by Reed, traverse society’s seamy alley ways — even as Sterling Morrison, John Cale and Maureen Tucker help craft a serrated, often free form blizzard of sound. And so we have a title track that describes a descent into drug use, while the band-written “Gift” features a a short story recitation paired in one channel with the band in full squall on the other. Meanwhile, “I Heard Her Call My Name” is utterly subsumed in freeback. “Sister Ray,” credited to all of the band members, ends in a 17-minute jam session.

All of it came together to make White Light/White Heat “the Statue of Liberty,” as Reed once correctly surmised, “of punk.”

This new 45th Anniversary super deluxe edition, spanning three discs and 30 tracks, ups the ante — combining all of the original project’s still-resonant verve with several new deeply insightful, never-before-heard moments. Included are both stereo and mono mixes. Conceived in cooperation with Cale and with Reed before his untimely passing, this project also features treasured moments from Cale’s last studio work with the Velvets as well as the long-awaited official release of the band’s April 30, 1967 performance at New York’s Gymnasium — expanded to include five previously unheard performances from Cale’s personal archives.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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