Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Formed: 1964 (New York, NY)
Instruments: Lou Reed (Vocals, Guitar), John Cale (Bass, Viola & Organ), Sterling Morrison (Guitars) & Maureen Tucker (Percussion & Drums)
Genre: Experimental Rock, Proto-Punk, Rock & Roll
The most influential rock & roll band of the last 40 years? This one--no contest. However, the Velvet Underground wasn't really "ahead of its time." These records offer a clarifying, bracing vision; Lou Reed trained his acute songwriter's eye on the world around him. specifically, the streets and demimonde of New York City.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO/1967/Verve****
WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT/1967/Verve***
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND/1969/Verve****
LIVE AT MAX'S KANSAS CITY/1972/Atlantic**
THE BEST OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND/1989/Verve****
PEEL SLOWLY AND SEE/1995/Polydor****
While San Francisco groups benignly celebrated the Summer of Love, The Velvet Underground & Nico documented the side effects of drug experimentation and sexual freedom on chilling tracks like Heroin and Waiting For My Man. A former student of the avant-garde classical music, bassist John Cale tempers the Velvet's dense guitar onslaught with stark, jarring viola cries. Reed and Sterling Morrison's had been playing guitar together since the early '60s; they took the steady, rhythmic strumming of folk and gradually distorted it into a crude, propulsive electric blur. But Reed also displays a finely honed pop sense on the achingly insightful love songs Femme Fatale and I'll Be Your Mirror. Nico's artfully murmured vocals on these two tracks are a matter of taste; certainly, her efforts pale in comparison to Reed's deadpan mastery of talk-singing.
By the second album, Nico was gone and the Velvet Underground's association with Andy Warhol was winding down. White Light/White Heat taps into the group's brilliamt, blinding musical essence: the 17-minute Sister Ray--minimalist tour de force--hurtles along like an amphetamine rush, bypassing the usual psychedelic detours in a headlong charge. Yet in the end, underneath the guitar mesh and trance-inducing organ, Maureen Tucker's nervous-but-steady drum pulse just may be what renders Sister Ray so hypnotic. Just as confidently, The Velvet Underground bolts off in the opposite direction. With Cale departed for a solo career, Reed really starts to deepen his songwriting. Pale Blue Eyes and Beginning To See The Light reveal the compassion and insight behind his skeptical, world-weary stance, while What Goes On indicates the Velvets can still push your stereo's readout dials well into the red zone.
Reed reaches his songwriting zenith on Loaded, and the band's wall-of-raunch crystalyzes into instantly recognizable sonmg structures. Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll deserve their status as anthems; those invigorating three-chord heartbeat riffs underscore the stirring, evocative details in the lyrics. Singing about suburban Jenny, whose lyrics "life was saved by rock & roll," Reed struck a resonant chord with a new, disaffected generation of rock & rollers. Never was it a best-seller.
Born: June 19, 1948 (Rangoon, Burma)
Died: November 25, 1974 (Tanworth-in-Arden, England)
Instruments: Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Genre: British Folk-Rock, Baroque Pop, Progressive Folk, British Folk, Folk-Rock, Singer/Songwriter
A singular talent who passed almost unnoticed during his brief lifetime, Nick Drake produced several albums of chilling, somber beauty. With hindsight, these have come to be recognized as peak achievements of both the British folk-rock scene and the entire rock singer/songwriter genre. Sometimes compared to Van Morrison, Drake, in fact, resembled Donovan much more in his breathy vocals, strong meolodies, and the accoustic-based orchestral sweep of his arrangements. His was a much darker version than Donovan's, however, with disturbing themes of melancholy, failed romance, mortality, and depression lurking just beneath, or even well above, the surface. Ironically, Drake has achieved a far greater stature in the decades following his death, with an avid cult following that grows by the year. In the manner of the young romantic poets of the 19th century who died before their time, Drake is revered by many listeners today, with a following that spans generations. Baby boomers who missed him the first time around found much to revisit once they discovered him, and his pensive loneliness speaks directly to contemporary alternative rockers who share his sense of morose alienation.
FIVE LEAVES LEFT/1969/Hannibal****
TIME OF NO REPLY/1986/Hannibal***
Music of a melancholy, twilit beauty, Drake's 3 albums: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon echo, in muted intensity, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; they are suites of gemlike songs urged on by Drake's nimble guitar, set against arrangements whose finesse recalls chamber music. Pink Moon is the sparest; some of its lyrics read like Zen koans. Everything Drake wrote--and sang in a haunting, sometimes chilling near-whisper--is pervaded by a fragile hypersensitivity, and while his mood seldom varies, it has its dark, resonant magic. Dead of a drug overdose in 1974, Drake was sudden like lightning--and the afterglow still simmers. Time Of No Reply is a collection of outtakes and fine unreleased tracks.
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett & Juliette Lewis
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
The drug of choice in 1999 is a virtual-reality setup that allows people to relive their own or someone else's experiences. During the last 48 hours of the 20th century, a seedy former vice cop gets involved with two such "wiretrips"- one a grisly sex murder, the other the backstreet killing of a rap star by racist cops.
This feverish audiovisual orgy leers inot the future of virtual reality and greases it with sleaze. Rated R for graphic violence, sex, nudity and language. 145 mins.
My Rating: ***
Starring: Hedy Lamarr & George Sanders
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Lusty tale of a woman who conspires with her stepson to kill her husband. A strange adaptation of the Ben Ames Williams bestseller, mainly because Hedy Lamarr looks better than she acts.
She bought the rights to the book, selected cast and director, and listed herself as an associate producer. 100 mins.
My Rating: **
Starring: Jimmy Lydon, Sally Eilers & Regis Toomey
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Following the mysterious dissapearance of his father, a teenager on a fishing holiday with the family physician is disturbed by a strange dream concerning his mother. 80 mins.
My Rating: ** 1/2
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin & Kirk Douglas
Director: Lewis Milestone
Terrible title doesn't do this well-acted drama justice.
Woman-with-a-past Barbara Stanwyck excels in this story of a secret that comes back to threaten her now-stable life and the lengths she must go to in order to ensure her security.
Young Kirk Douglas in his film debut already charges the screen with electricity. 117 mins.
My Rating: *** 1/2
Starring: Orson Welles, Loretta Young & Edward G. Robinson
Director: Orson Welles
Nazi war criminal (Orson Welles) assumes a new identity in a Connecticut town following World War II, unaware that a government agent (Edward G. Robinson) is tailing him.
Extremely well-done film, holds the viewer's interest from start to finish. 95 mins.
My Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck & Burt Lancaster
Director: Anatole Litvak
Slick cinema adaptation, by the author herself, of Lucille Fletcher's famed radio drama. Barbara Stanwyck is superb-and received an Oscar nomination-as an invalid who, due to those "crossed wires" so beloved in fiction, overhears two men plotting the murder of a woman.
Gradually, Stanwyck realizes that she is the target. 89 mins.
My Rating: ***
Starring: Edward G. Robinson
Director: Delmer Daves
A gripping suspense melodrama enhanced by a musical score by Miklos Rozsa. Edward G. Robinson employs Rory Calhoun to keep the curious away from a decaying old house deep in the woods.
But his niece and a young hired hand must learn the secret. 100 mins.
My Rating: ***