Sound — 9
The Velvets first record without John Cale, and his absence stripped away nearly all of the avant-garde European stylistic flourishes that made the first two albums so disconcerting to the public at the time. This is Lou Reeds band, playing Lou Reed songs. The group initially wanted to outscreech the previous two albums, and just scare the hell out of everyone, since they weren't getting any radio time or album sales anyway. However, right before entering the studio, they had all of their gear stolen, and were forced to perform much of the album on acoustic guitar and borrowed instruments, which definitely tones down the ferocity and leaves the songs to shine starkly through on their own. It's a fascinating album, even without the bombast and theatrics that took so many by surprise on their previous two efforts. In fact, people who HATE the Velvet Underground often love this album, as the softer side of Reeds writing is at the fore here. And nearly all of the songs are classics, which you can read about in a thousand elsewheres. Although it was the beginning of the end for The Velvets, it's a brilliant introduction to the songwriting prowess of Lou Reed, and an interesting look at the shock-rockers of their day maturing in a beautiful way.
Lyrics — 8
While Lou Reed is capable of some jarringly stark descriptions of urban life, here he shows a more introspective and occasionally even optimistic approach to his lyricism. Abandoning linear narratives on most of the songs, he seems to toy with softening up the image of the band, which he would also employ on the Velvets final album, although with not so graceful a touch. Reed has sometimes shown a tendency to coast along on his reputation and spit out some juvenile, thoughtless verses from time to time, but this album shows him fairly close to the top of his game, even as he was reinventing his style.
Overall Impression — 9
Compared to the drug-induced pipe dream music that was coming from the west coast at the time, and usually stands to represent the music of the era, The Velvet Underground seemingly were the elephant in the room in 1969. They stuck to their artistic intentions, whether they led them to blissed-out rock and roll salvation (Beginning to See the Light), regretful longing (After Hours), or resignation and tenderness (Pale Blue Eyes). It's greatest achievement, ahead of any other Velvets album, may lie in it's accessibility to those unfamiliar with them. It's a sweet and welcoming introduction to a band that still seems to need one.