After the filthy pyrotechnic swim through New York’s seedy innards ‘While Light/White Heat’, The Velvet Underground’s third came as a bit of a shock. The head-spinning drug diaries and stories involving obsessive lovers, lobotomies and transvestite prostitutes was now gone in favour of a more subtle and articulate sound. The opener ‘Candy Says’ is about Andy Warhol’s muse Candy Darling and the terrible depression she felt towards the end of her life; it’s the kind of thing that makes you sore inside for all the right reasons. In other words, the darkness is still here, but it’s a palpable emotional darkness with songs of redemption, not a pit of decadence and sexual deviance. The closest it comes to this “decadence” is in ‘Some Kinda Love’ when Lou Reed says “Put jelly on your shoulder babe and lie down upon the carpet” which by comparison sounds a bit like “I wanna hold your hand” compared to “She’s busy sucking on my ding-dong” in ‘WL/WH’s ‘Sister Ray’. ‘Some Kinda Love’ is a brilliant country-tinged dabble in twangy guitars that makes Mr Reed sound like a street-smart romantic resident dude in cowboy boots. The moments of tenderness such as the spiritual ‘Jesus’ and ‘I’m Set Free’, the warmly undulating ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and the borderline campfire-song ‘After Hours’ are clear stand-outs but they never overshadow the more rough-around-the-edges moments like the joyous ring-bang rock n roll of ‘What Goes On’ and the eight-minute-plus experimental wheezing jams and whirlwind narratives that make up ‘The Murder Mystery’. The production radiates a warm glow and makes the whole experience feel like being pleasantly tipsy in a dimly lit room full of people in the same gentle state of mind, talking quietly.
When you’re listening to a record as imitated as this one, it’s hard to realise how different it sounded at the time. It often refused to fit into conventional rock or the folk that it hinted at. Hearing it now feels like you’re listening to the birth of modern American indie rock. Even John Cale, who left the group due to the direction this album was taking, ended up loving it and included ‘Some Kinda Love’ on his list of desert island discs. Over 40 years on, it could have been recorded this morning and remains as subtly spellbinding as ever.
Key Track: Pale Blue Eyes
Listen to this: by a fire at 1AM.