So many years on, The Velvets’ debut still sounds extraordinary.
Paul Whitelaw 2012-10-19
Famously ignored upon its release in 1967, The Velvet Underground & Nico's landmark debut has since become regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time. First released on CD in 1986, it then appeared as part of the career-spanning Peel Slowly and See box set in 1995, followed by a deluxe edition in 2002.
And that, you'd think, would be that. But here it is again, in its most comprehensively expanded form yet, and in various formats each vying for your wallet.
Unfortunately, its most telling detail isn't to be found in the hitherto hidden textures of the newly remastered mono mix, nor in the various alternate versions of familiar classics. It's in the fact that, so eager were they to milk its enduring legacy, Universal Music/Polydor couldn't wait just a few more years for the more commonly celebrated 50th anniversary.
Tainted by a cynical and exploitative pall, it transforms an uncompromising artistic statement into a mammoth, cash-gobbling monster. You wait for The Man long enough, he'll catch up with you in the end.
So what's on offer? The limited-edition six-CD box set features stereo and mono mixes, plus Nico's VU-assisted debut album Chelsea Girl, all newly remastered from the original tapes by VU reissue maestro Bill Levenson.
It also boasts the first official release of The Scepter Studios sessions, featuring early takes and mixes, a Factory rehearsal (including Nico's aborted take on There She Goes Again) and an oft-bootlegged live performance from 1966. Levenson's stellar work aside, it's for fanatics only; how many versions of All Tomorrow's Parties does anyone really need?
The two-CD edition features the stereo version alongside the Scepter sessions. So if you want to enjoy Levenson's superior, rawer mono remaster, then the box set is your only option. See what they did there?
It's galling that such a deathless masterpiece – it still sounds extraordinary – should be endlessly repackaged for rank commercial gain. Still, roll on the 47th anniversary giant inflatable banana edition with holographic Lou Reed 3D commentary.