Album of the week: The Velvet Underground & Nico Super Deluxe Edition
The Velvet Underground & Nico (Super Deluxe Edition)
The Velvet Underground
How could anyone in 1966 have hoped to get a grasp on The Velvet Underground's music? Some call the album that contains the band's earliest music the most influential record in rock history: certainly, it's hard to imagine what rock music would sound like today if the album had never existed. But it still feels mysterious and unknowable.
With hindsight, you can hear vague intimations of music that came before it. At one extreme, the drone of John Cale's viola was informed by the avant-garde minimalists with whom he'd studied before joining the band. At the other there was R&B, and Lou Reed's obsession with free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman must have informed some of its dissonance. But they're vastly outweighed by moments that defy any rational explication - how did anybody end up sounding like this? It's a question this box set - featuring a live set, mono and stereo versions of the album, a rough mix discovered a decade ago, Nico's solo debut, Chelsea Girl, and sundry outtakes - doesn't answer.
But the box set does highlight the bewilderment that The Velvet Underground's innovations caused at the time. Even the band sound a little confused by the new terrain that they're mapping out. Now, 45 years on, it's as enigmatic and resistant to explanation as ever. All you can do is succumb to it.
Alexis Petridis (Guardian News & Media)