This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Softly, sumptuously subversive - the Velvet Underground

Velvet is one of those fabrics that always seems just a little bit naughty. It can be sensual, it can be sexual, it can be sumptuous: and somehow you always feel, before you let your skin rub against it, that you need to take a furtive look around you, just in case someone is watching.

It's not that the music of The Velvet Underground is always quite that smooth - it is music from the underground, after all - but it's music that, even when it is at its most ragged, its most sordid, has a lushness to it, softening the blows of the gritty netherworld, but never for a moment really protecting you from it.

Lou Reed's avant-rock band of the 1960s had a small output - but it was an output that was diverse enough to make pretty well every song on every album interesting; but also unified enough to leave a legacy that helped shape punk and post-punk in a way that the "Velvet Underground influence" is instantly recognisable, and almost always commented upon - the droning, monotone guitars; music absorbed in itself, narcissistic: the big bang of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

The Velvet Underground is sleazy and wonderful - whether it's hypnotically erotic, as in 'Venus in Furs', or whether it's shooting up and screeching in your face, as in 'Heroin', or outdoing Roald Dahl in grotesquerie, as it does in 'The Gift'; or whether it's buggering you with the big, bold, queer epic of 'Sister Ray', or seducing you with the disarming, deceptive, deluded simplicity of 'Pale Blue Eyes', it's all irresistable. It's all music to play loudly when you've got the house and the gin to yourself, music to win over the neighbours, and shock them, all at once.

I don't think Lou Reed ever did anything as good as what he did when he was with The Velvet Underground - or, at least, the really good stuff he did afterwards was mostly just elaborating on what he had already said here (except for Metal Machine Music - but that's going to be another story and another post).

In this music, Lou Reed planted a sumptuous, sensuous, subversive seed - deep, deep blow the surface. And it still grows, somewhere deep and dark in the forest of modern music. Cut your way through the quagmire of commercialism and you will find, hidden but thriving in the gloom, the fascinating fruits of what still lies below, deep below, in the velvet underground.

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