The Velvet Underground, White Light/ White Heat

White Light/ White Heat The Velvet Underground

Writing for Rolling Stone about The Velvet Underground, Julian Casablancas, the ineloquent lead singer of The Strokes called White Light/ White Heat a “real fuck-the-world album.”  I don’t know if I could possibly disagree with him more.  White Light/ White Heat is one of the most experimental mainstream releases ever, it’s brazenly atonal, and in its attempt, is subversively entertaining and influential.  What it’s not is angry, not in the traditional sense.  Instead, it’s a knowing, even joyful mockery of bourgeoisie morality – a morality that includes certain tropes of musicianship.  So the title song that opens the record feels the “white light goin’, messin’ up my mind,” and the result is a sort of ingestion and through-the-looking-glass capitulation of what culture really is.  The centerpiece, strangely, is “The Gift,” an 8 minute spoken tale of a bland, spoiled couple (Waldo!  And Marsha!) that turns into a tail of accidental murder – a track that’s so transfixing and barbed, it’s hard to figure out whether it’s a triumph of music or storytelling.  The rest of the record is the epitome of the Velvets prickly difficulty, like the tune of “Lady Godiva’s Operation” overtaken by outside voices, or the 17-minute opus “Sister Ray” – they’re testaments to the brave specificity of the bands noisy compositions, presenting a countercultural assault on the coming faux-peppiness of the early 70’s.  Doing so wasn’t fucking the world at all, it was saving it, with a toothsome grin.

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