The Velvet Underground

V.U.

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No one seems to know if the Velvet Underground were making an album or just cutting demos when they went into the studio in 1969 not long before their contract with MGM Records ran out -- even the members of the band didn't agree on the particulars years after the fact -- but when the tapes were rediscovered in Polygram's vaults in the early '80s, it led to the first major archival release from the Velvets since 1969: Velvet Underground Live, and one that was every bit as important. While many of the tunes on VU had circulated for years on bootlegs (sourced from rough-mix acetates reportedly belonging to Sterling Morrison), the album gave them their first authorized release, and in much improved fidelity. Some fans have grumbled (and not without reason) over the very '80s polish the new mixes gave the tunes, but this still sounds like the Velvet Underground, and in fine fettle at that. The 1969 recordings on VU rank with some of the most accessible but potent rock & roll the Velvet Underground ever recorded; if Loaded sometimes felt like a compromised version of the band, these tapes show how the Velvets could play nice in the studio without betraying their musical instincts in the least, and "I Can't Stand It," "Foggy Notion," and "One of These Days" are memorable, punchy rock tunes that also have a vital sense of adventure, perfectly befitting the band's history and outlook. VU also includes a few older archive recordings (including the lovely "Stephanie Says" with John Cale on viola, and the great R&B workout "Temptation Inside Your Heart") that have a different feel but still mesh gracefully with the scrappy 1969 tapes. VU was the first authorized look at what Velvet Underground fans have come to call "the Great Lost Album," and the more straightforward presentation of these recordings on the 2014 Super Deluxe edition of The Velvet Underground is probably truer to the original intent, but VU was assembled with real care, and it shows -- the sequence flatters the songs, and the music is a reminder that this band wasn't as alienating as many writers like to suggest. The Velvet Underground were fearless groundbreakers, but they could also play tough but joyous rock & roll that made people want to dance, and that side of the band stands proudly at front and center on VU.

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