The Velvet Underground: Gold

The Velvet Underground

So far as I can tell there are two reasons why Gold would be worth buying: 1) You’re a Velvet Underground completist; and 2) The shuffle function on your IPOD doesn’t work. If you have enough of an interest in the Velvets to contemplate buying Gold, if you’re even bothering to read this, then you should just go buy all the studio albums. (There’s only four, and you can get them pretty cheap).

Hmm. I realize that may be asking a lot so I’ll try and make it a little easier for you. If you wear thrift-store sweaters and glasses you could get away with owning just The Velvet Underground and Loaded. If you dig leather and shades, then you could scrape by with owning The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light / White Heat. Now, you gotta understand that there’s going to be some sensibility overlap, but if for some reason you’re intent on depriving yourself, I guess you make do with the bare minimum I just described. But as I said before, other than for reasons of convenience or compulsion, it’s hard for me to understand why someone would be satisfied with Gold. Unless, that is, you’re dying to hear live versions of “New Age”, “Rock and Roll”, “Ocean”, and “Sweet Jane” (included in place of the album cuts due to licensing issues), all of which you can get, plus other great stuff, on cheapo live albums. So yeah, what I said still stands, but I guess Velvet Underground – Finished Dinner, Feeling Hungry probably wouldn’t swing it at a Polydor marketing meeting.

I understand that the preceding information doesn’t really help if you’re looking for the sort of insightful cultural commentary usually offered by PopMatters. But you have a lot of options. At this point, The Velvet Underground has been the subject of keenly insightful and witty criticism from folks like Ellen Willis and Lester Bangs. You should read what they’ve written; it’s great. You can even find a wealth of interesting writing on the Velvet Underground right here on PopMatters. I’m not going to waste our time together by trying to convince you why the band is so great. If you don’t get it, then rock music just isn’t your bag.

If anything, an album like Gold diminishes the stature of the band. The idea that someone might come to know this music solely through a compilation is a frustrating one. It’s like trying to grasp the Beatles by only having the The Beatles 1 album. Every track is going to absolutely slay you, but there’s so much more to be had. Connections and context are rendered meaningless by presenting the music in this fashion. You can buy this album if you want, but you have to promise me you’ll buy their other ones too. It doesn’t have to be right away, but you gotta do it.

Now, in the spirit of providing a good return on your time invested (ROTI in biz-speak), I’m about to give you a little added-value bonus: a peek behind the Wizard’s curtain. You see, I struggled with this review for a long time, with a lot of stops and starts, and I worked my way through a lot of different approaches and I’ve decided to share with you what I thought were the best ones. Hold on now! This isn’t just me foisting some half-formed thoughts onto you. It’s both a window into the thought process of a writer trying to come to concise terms with the legacy of such a monstrous band, as well as a corrosive parody of the kind of clichés that I’ve tried to avoid. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

The Writer begins with clichés and quits out of frustration:
The Velvet Underground is one of the building blocks of modern rock. Spit and you’ll hit a band that’s biting something our lords of the demimonde already did, and did better, four decades ago. In an era of psychedelic whimsy and pansy profundity, the Velvet Underground introduced a vocabulary of dirty realism that was previously unknown in the world of rock and roll. Hardly anyone bought their album, but everyone who did started a band. Yadda Yadda Yadda.

The Writer Gets Frustrated and displaces his anger onto the band:
While the band’s historical place in rock music is beyond contention, it is interesting to see how that history has been anthologized on the two-disc Gold compilation. They were the first cult band, and the band that made phony assholes with an undeserved hipper-than-thou attitude possible. They introduced a new archetype to rock and roll: the slumming urban hipster. The Velvet Underground is the mother of all pretentious douche-bags.

The Writer Comes up with an ending before writing the review:
Regardless of all the blarney, mine included, Gold deserves the highest rating, minus a few qualms relating to track licensing. Any band that can play with the kind of beauty (Sunday Morning) and horror (Sister Ray) that the Velvets could, and do it in the space of one song (Heroin) deserves nothing less then for you to get down on your knees and kiss their boots of shiny leather.

Actually, I can live with that last one.

RATING 9 / 10