Velvet Underground & Nico [45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Version]
Only a handful of rock albums have been as influential and groundbreaking as The Velvet Underground & Nico. Glam, punk, new wave, goth, noise, and nearly every left-of-center rock movement that followed this album's 1967 release owes an audible debt to this music, and though Lou Reed's lyrical exploration of drugs and kinky sex always received the most attention, the music Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker played was as radical as the words they accompanied. The bracing discord of "European Son," the troubling beauty of "All Tomorrow's Parties," and the expressive dynamics of "Heroin" all remain as compelling as the day they were recorded, and The Velvet Underground & Nico has lost little of its power to surprise and intrigue 45 years after first hitting the racks, which is confirmed by Universal's limited "Super Deluxe Edition" of the album. The set expands the LP into a lavish six-disc set, which celebrates the Velvets' revolutionary debut album and their journey through the outer limits of pop music from 1966 through mid-1967. The first two discs of the set feature the original album in its original stereo and mono mixes; the remastered stereo version is clearer and better detailed than ever before, while disc one is tagged with outtakes and alternate mixes, and disc two includes variant edits that appeared on singles. Disc three contains Nico's debut solo album Chelsea Girl, which featured Reed, Cale, and Morrison contributing as songwriters and instrumentalists (along with a young Jackson Browne), and the music suggests what the Velvets might have sounded like had Nico been their exclusive lead vocalist. Disc four contains material from the fabled "Norman Dolph acetate," which preserves alternate takes and mixes from the album's original sessions, as well as six tunes from a January 1966 rehearsal at Andy Warhol's Factory, including the otherwise unrecorded "Miss Joanie Lee" and "Walk Alone." The performances and recordings are rough, but Reed and Morrison deliver some outstanding, aggressive guitar work. And the final two discs feature an amateur recording of the group performing in Columbus, Ohio on November 4, 1966. Though this material has been bootlegged several times before, the new mastering gleans a bit more fidelity from a technically primitive mono recording. Between the long, improvisational noise jams and the many technical glitches, this is only for hardcore fans, but the performance is energetic and exciting, and this is one of the few documents of Nico performing on-stage with the group. The liner notes by Richie Unterberger offer a richly detailed history of the Velvet Underground's first years, and the packaging and design are beautiful, featuring dozens of rare photographs and relevant artwork. To look at it, the 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico seems more like a coffee table book than an album, but pop the CDs into your player and you'll hear a compellingly raw portrait of a young band making their first steps toward greatness.