Tuesday, July 12, 2011

292 White Light/White Heat. Oddly Compelling and compellingly odd.

Album: White Light/White Heat
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Genre: Rock
Year: 1968


  1. White Light/White Heat
  2. The Gift
  3. Lady Godiva's Operation
  4. Here She Comes Now
  5. I Heard Her Call My Name
  6. Sister Ray

White Light White Heat is the last release by what many consider the classic line up of The Velvet Underground. And when I say "last" I also mean "second" and when I say classic I mean "without Nico" who was considered an important part of the first release. It's also the strangest and least accessible of the Velvets albums which means for many it's the only one that matters and for others it's best avoided.

Track two on White Light/White Heat goes for 8 minutes and is actually a spoken short story that burbles out of one speaker while a rock instrumental grooves out of the other. The two parts don't actually compliment each other, the story and the music don't interact in any way, It's just a guy reading a story that happens to last as long as an instrumental that plays at the same time. The story, by the way, is about a man who mails himself to his girlfriend in a large box only to be accidentally stabbed to death when she tries to open it with a knife.

You may be surprised to learn that this track is actually the second most conventional song on the entire album. The opening track ends with screeching feedback, the guitar in I heard her call my name is so distorted it could give a headache to a decapitation victim and Lady Godiva's Operation is about a transvestite getting a lobotomy and features vocals that aren't so much shared as stolen by Lou Reed halfway through the song.

The crowning moment of strangeness comes at the end when the band perform Sister Ray, a 17:31 song that the band play from start to finish in one take with no overdubs. It's loud, shambolic, lyrically dark and involves drug use, oral sex, death and other things besides. Two guitars, one organ, drums. 17 minutes. Lots of improvisation and an emphasis on noise. Constant references to "sucking on my ding dong". Who said the Velvet Underground weren't radio friendly?

When it was first released White light/White Heat sold hardly any copies and was largely ignored by the record buying public. In the years since it's been hailed as a masterpiece. There's much here that I can take or leave but I'll go on record as saying that Sister Ray is flat-out fantastic. All 17 and a half gloriously chaotic minutes.

Highlight: Sister Ray
Lowlight: The Gift

Influenced by: Heroin, the art scene and an absence of German ingĂ©nues.
Influenced: Nobody then, lots of people now.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote: "The rest of the album's good, but Sister Ray is REALLY where it's at. Can you name another Velvet Underground song that was name-checked in a Final Fantasy game? I don't think so."

-Since when is being name-checked in a Final Fantasy game an indication of anything? Odd.

So do you love White Light and White Heat or does it make you incandescent with rage? Let me know below.

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