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The Universal Masters Collection: Classic Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

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Album Review

Since 1990 or so, every few years someone at whatever corporate entity that happens to own the bulk of the Velvet Underground's catalog decides to take a stab at compiling a single-disc "greatest-hits" album from the band's wildly influential body of work, and in 2006 the British branch of Universal/Polydor presented the latest entry in this ongoing project with the 18-track collection The Very Best of the Velvet Underground. While Polydor's 2005 Gold set is a more thorough and elegantly compiled set (and at two discs it's also a lot longer), this does pretty well by the Velvets' history and gives a clear portrait of their stylistic breadth in just 75 minutes. The disc includes representative selections from all four original studio albums (including two from Loaded, recorded for Atlantic Records and therefore usually missing from such sets) as well as some "Great Lost Album" sides from VU. The sequence swings easily from the heady joy of "Beginning to See the Light" to the sinister urges of "Venus in Furs," and finds room for both the delicacy of "Stephanie Says" and the feedback-ravaged chaos of "I Heard Her Call My Name" (and if you're not going to include "Sister Ray" on one of these collections, the latter track is the next best thing). The remastering of the material is quite good and appropriately loud, and the booklet includes a number of little-seen photos (though someone should tell Daryl Easlea that name-checking the Strokes and the Vines in his liner notes is just going to make this package seem very, very dated in five years). The Very Best of the Velvet Underground comes close to living up to its title, and while it's best viewed as a beginner's guide to their music, it also shows just how good and how innovative they could be.

Biography

Formed: 1964 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s

Few rock groups can claim to have broken so much new territory, and maintain such consistent brilliance on record, as the Velvet Underground during their brief lifespan. It was the group's lot to be ahead of, or at least out of step with, their time. The mid- to late '60s was an era of explosive growth and experimentation in rock, but the Velvets' innovations — which blended the energy of rock with the sonic adventurism of the avant-garde, and introduced a new degree of social realism and sexual...
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