Legend tells us that producer Tom Wilson, who took over with the Velvet Underground after the exits of Nico and Andy Warhol as muses/party topics, walked out during the inner ear-rearranging sessions for “Sister Ray,” one of the many darkly abrasive exclamations to be found on 1969’s White Light/White Heat.
He wasn’t the only one surprised by this tension-lathered, thunderous follow up to Velvet Underground and Nico. Certainly, there had been moments of avant-garde noise on that 1967 debut, but more often the group seemed focused on a kind of nihilistic junkie-pop back then. Not anymore: The Velvets were planting the first-flowering seeds of the looming DIY movement – nearly a decade before anyone had coined the phrase.
And if anything, the new three-disc, 30-track 45th Anniversary super-deluxe edition ups the ante — combining all of the original project’s still-resonant verve with several new deeply insightful, never-before-heard moments. Featured are both stereo and mono mixes. Conceived in cooperation with John Cale and with Lou Reed before his untimely passing, this project also collects treasured moments from Cale’s last studio work with the Velvets as well as the long-awaited official release of the band’s April 30, 1967 performance at New York’s Gymnasium — expanded to include five previously unheard performances from Cale’s personal archives.
Of course, it remains, then as now, essentially unlistenable to your average fan of so-called classic rock – from its focus on characters from society’s seamy alley ways to the serrated, often free-form blizzard of sound being created by Cale, Sterling Morrison, the late Reed and Maureen Tucker. And yet, it’s easy to see why the punky, forward-thinking White Light/White Heat has also remained so critically beloved. This is the framed edition of a band drawing determinedly outside the lines.