Soundblab DECEMBER 30, 2017 - by Ljubinko Zivkovic


What a road this album has traveled! Fraught with technical hassles, ignorance, scorn, and lawsuits, it survived to finally be recognized as one of the most influential albums ever, and for that matter, one of the best. Forget Rolling Stone ranking it as Number 13 on its "Best Of" list, unless the number is supposed to be symbolic. If it isn't one of the top five, then just simply skip it!

In almost any recent (re)assessment of it, the first thing that is pointed out is Brian Eno's comment, so why not repeat it here, because it is absolutely precise: "It (the album) only sold thirty-thousand copies, but everyone who bought it started a band". Indeed, it is not a question of who The Velvet Underground & Nico influenced, but rather who it didn't. From cult acts like The Feelies to absolute greats like David Bowie who even surpassed The Velvet Underground itself; and almost any genre that came after, including glam, punk, lo-fi and drone. Try comparing John Cale's modified viola sounds on Venus In Furs and The Black Angel's Death Song to quite a few sounds produced by Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Musicians even adopted names used in the songs as their own.

It all started with the cards seriously stacked against it. Poor recording conditions (when they started recording, only Lou Reed was able to use headphones in the studio), delays, re-recordings with Dylan's producer Tom Wilson, lawsuits because of the (back) cover, the album being pulled from the stores for a few months, ignorance from critics, outrage because of the lyrical content, and particularly Andy Warhol's front cover, which led to just about every radio station in the US refusing to play it at the time.

But, what we all got with The Velvet Underground & Nico is a truly artistic package - musically, lyrically and visually that persisted and only grew through time. Its visions of New York as a symbol of civilizational decadence still rings true, and its combination of Lou Reed's New York cool, Sterling Morrison's and Moe Tucker's punkishness, John Cale's modern experimentalism, and Nico's Berlin cool produced a trans-continental view of netherworld at a time when Cabaret was still a figment of Bob Fosse's imagination.

It's all here: the seemingly innocuous balladry of Sunday Morning ("Early dawning, Sunday morning / It's just the wasted years so close behind / Watch out, the world's behind you"), the drug themes of I'm Waiting For My Man and Heroin, the kinky sex of Venus In Furs, and the pure punk and dystopia of European Son ("You killed your European Son / You spit on those under twenty-one / But now your blue car is gone / You better say so long") - it is all absolutely perfect.

All eleven songs that originally appeared on the album represent a fully formed musical and lyrical vision individually and as a part of the whole. While all the available reissues and remasters have raised the level of the listening experience, even if you put on the murky sounding first issue you are in no way able to discern the time period when this album was made - in 1966 when the recording began, today, more than fifty years later or any time in-between. And all that for simply one reason - it is timeless.