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A view on Blu-ray Audio discs by Daniel Lalla

The Velvet Underground & Nico [Blu-ray Audio]  

 

 

Review by Daniel Lalla

 

Producer: Universal Music Group (Verve Records)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Total Music time: 48:55

Recorded: April 1966, Scepter Studios, New York City; May 1966, T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood, California; November 1966, Mayfair Studios, New York City

Disc Size: 6,879,093,248 bytes

Audio: 2.0 Stereo LPCM or DolbyTrueHD or DTS-HD 24 / 192 (24 bit depth and 192 kHz sampling rate)

Chapters: 11 Tracks

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: October 30th, 2013

 

Extras:

A foldout with photos and lyrics and extensive description of the recording process of the album. A paper with a code to access the Blu-ray disc digital downloads online - MP3 only
 

Produced By: Andy Warhol (officially, but he really had virtually nothing to do with the music)
From Lou Reed: “He just made it possible for us to be ourselves and go right ahead with it because he was Andy Warhol. In a sense, he really did produce it, because he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren't large enough to be attacked... and as a consequence of him being the producer, we'd just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer. Of course he didn't know anything about record production—but he didn't have to. He just sat there and said "Oooh, that's fantastic," and the engineer would say, "Oh yeah! Right! It is fantastic, isn't it?"

 

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico Track Listing:
1. Sunday Morning
2. I'm Waiting For The Man
3. Femme Fatale
4. Venus In Furs
5. Run Run Run
6. All Tomorrow's Parties
7. Heroin
8. There She Goes Again
9. I'll Be Your Mirror
10. Black Angel's Death Song
11. European Son

 

Comparison material:
Japan SHM-SACD – Same 11 Tracks as the
Blu-ray
Deluxe Edition 2 CD Set – Umc/Polydor – 731458962427 – 31 Tracks – 2’ 31”
Peel Slowly and See Box Set – 0731452788726 – 86 page book – 74 tracks – over 6 hours
Japan SHM-CD 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe 6 CD Box Set - UICY-75343 – 65 Tracks 5’50”

 

 

RIAA Sales: UK Platinum

Singles: "All Tomorrow's Parties" (edit) b/w "I'll Be Your Mirror"

"Sunday Morning" b/w "Femme Fatale"
I’m Waiting for the Man” was released in 1973

Interesting trivia : Once again, there is just too much to say about this classic album.

- In 2006 it was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
- Montreal collector Warren Hill found the Scepter Studio acetate in NYC at a sale for 75 cents. He got over $25000 for it in an auction and the songs are once again available
- It’s widely stated that the album was a flop initially, but it’s reputation continued to grow and actually it sold nearly 60000 copies by 1969, which was respectable at the time.
- Rolling Stone Magazine’s #13 Greatest Album of All Time
- The Observer's #1 of '50 Albums that Changed Music'
- One of Time Magazine’s greatest 100 albums of all time
- The Alternative Music Almanac placed the album in the number 1 spot on the list of "10 Classic Alternative Albums"
- The album’s Scepter Studio sessions only cost about $2000 to record. Scepter Studios was a hole that was literally falling apart
- The album was released on Verve Records
- Both the front and back album covers have been the subject of lawsuits
o The rear for an unauthorized photo at the time of release
o The front cover for The Warhol Family foundation licensing the banana design for use in iPhone cases in 2012

Description: In the mid 1960s, John Cale provided the sound, heavily influenced by experimental music pioneers and Lou Reed provided the attitude while Andy Warhol gave it a certain art-school appeal. The Velvet Underground & Nico is unlike any album released before it. It charted new areas in music, taking it away from musicianship and polished production. It took it in a much newer, darker, more experimental direction that tackled unheard of subject matters in typical NYC style: bluntly and directly. It also had a certain democratizing effect in music: it is said that anyone who heard the early Velvet Underground work wanted to be in a band.

 

The album: The Velvet Underground & Nico is simultaneously amongst the first punk, garage, grunge, alt & goth albums ever. You can add experimental rock, glam, proto-punk or any other number of descriptors to this work that was about a generation ahead of its time. Even the song Femme Fatale is almost lounge jazz. A lot of range for a band that did not have a lot of traditional musicianship.

The subject matter of this album is really that of the underground and counter culture in NYC. Somewhat bleak at times, it deals head on with drug use, sadomasochism, and prostitution in an unflinching way.

The 11 track assault starts with the pensive overly-sweet Sunday Morning that hints at regret and the end of more than just the week. It sets an odd mood that is very incongruent with what is to follow….

Waiting for the Man is the white-boy heroin addict blues told in the story of a guy waiting to get his fix with $26 dollars in his hand in a part of NYC he clearly doesn’t belong in, but which drug use has brought him to. This song is a great example of why you want the extra bonus tracks – the initial song is a blues song, completely. By the time it hit the album, it was a full-on grunge/punk rock song. Femme Fatale is about, what else, a girl you’re never gonna have ‘you’re number 37 in her book’ hinting at prostitution in a lounge jazz style.

Venus In Furs, to my ears, is the first ever alt/goth song with a full-frontal assault into S&M. For example “Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather - Whiplash girlchild in the dark”. None too subtle, but the music sounds like an exotic funeral procession. It’s a song you can almost ‘smell’ if that makes any sense!

The track Run, Run, Run takes you back out of Venus’ S&M dungeon back into Union Square and more drug use. All Tomorrow’s Parties is another goth-style track that laments the poor girl lacking the clothes and status for: It is widely thought to be about “Thursday’s Child” who has “far to go”.

Heroin is about, well, heroin, but the importance is the direct way they attack the subject, describe the high, the fix, the process, the blood, the needle plunge. Put yourself in 1967, see what was on TV. The Beatles’ awakening was happening. The Beach Boys were at the point of Pet Sounds. 1967 must have been an interesting year. While songs romaticising pot were to come to the forefront, the Velvet Underground were flexing muscle and vein and bearing it out there for all to see. I

There She Goes Again I think is lyrically the most devastating brutal song. The prostitute is literally ‘on her knees’ but there are ‘no tears in her eyes’. It is steely resolve, primal, practical, cold all rolled into one. It is the dark underbelly of NYC once again. The kind you don’t see in Times Square anymore.

I’ll Be Your Mirror might be the one touching, redeeming song in the set that is a sort of praise to the misfit and a promise to be the companion, the one who will reassure, the one who will stay and accept you.

The Black Angel’s Death Song is an offering of choice; choices of lifestyles, all set out ‘on a plate’, including the freedom to ‘let go’ and is a perhaps more subtle hint at suicide.

European Son is a mystery to me. It is very experimental and hints at industrial music in the noisescape. It starts slowly building to a climax then Cale’s exploding a set of plates at the 1:02 mark triggers a destructive louder, harder, faster build to the end. Think early Nine Inch Nails type vibe and energy, but is remains a noisy infection noise and energy. It is the song that I think makes one finish on a note of energy and resolve. JOIN A BAND….

Audio: What can I say about the audio? This is a lo-fi POORLY RECORDED album. Period.
There is no amount of remastering that will ever turn this into anything else. However, the source material’s CONTENT has a place in any serious music fan’s collection. Even if it’s not your thing, the effects of this album are still heard today. It truly did change music.


So the Blu-ray Pure Audio of this release is an excellent example again of lost potential. Universal has largely made my task of reviewing these titles easy by choosing top tier albums for release. However, there has been a number of releases. a 5 CD box set, a 6 CD Super Deluxe 45th Anniversary Set (regular and Japanese SHM-CD relases). There is a 2 CD Deluxe Edition with the most important bonus tracks. There is a ‘rarities’ edition out there as well. Almost all sell out now and go out of print quickly and increase in value.

The 6 CD Set has HOURS of content. And it is, in my opinion, important content for an album that was so pivotal in the history of modern music. So why, oh why? would Universal release a
Blu-ray Audio with only the 11 basic tracks. I kind of ‘get’ the SHM-SACD: if you want the absolute best sound that you can possibly extract out of this recording, go for the expensive SHM-SACD. You cannot do better with respect to the sound.

 

But having said that, it is a lo-fi recording and NONE of the issues are compressed. Ther are all MORE than capable of reproducing this album faithfully. The SHM-SACD, Japanese SHM-CD and the Blu-ray might have a slightly more accurate depiction of the raw grittiness of the recording, but SO WHAT?

And this is also a time for me to lament something else: why have a 2.0 LPCM a 2.0 DTS and a 2.0 TrueHD recording. It’s overkill and filler. If they just stuck with the 2.0 LPCM track they could have included the entire 6 CD box set on a
Blu-ray. At the very least, they could have put the contents of the 2 CD Deluxe Edition

So for these reasons: that all recent releases are adequate, and that all the other releases include far more value, I cannot really give the
Blu-ray an unrestricted recommendation. It was a disappointment in these respects.

 

Analysis: I cannot make a curve for the SACD without converting it to PCM but the dynamic range values for all versions are in the order of DR11 and adequately and accurately depict the recording. To my ear the SHM-SACD sounds best and the Blu-ray audio is virtually identical. If it’s ultimate fidelity you want either will do, but there’s little ‘fidelity’ to be had with this album!

I have included curves for the song Sunday Morning from the Blu-ray

 

 

Deluxe Edition 2 CD Set

 

 

Peel Slowly and See Box Set

 

 

Japan SHM-CD 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe 6 CD

 


My recommendations:

For DVDBeaver fans to understand my beef, I give you the following comparison. Suppose you had a classic ground-breaking film like Nosferatu and, frankly, it looks like hell because of the old source material. Now suppose you had a Criterion edition that had the most complete version, and hours of bonus material that is important to your understanding of the film and its effects and influences on moviemaking. Now suppose a Blu-ray of the movie came out and it still looks horrible because of the source material and perhaps the picture is a little better, but there were no extras whatsoever? Which edition would you buy.

This album is so important that I suggest you get at least the 2 CD deluxe edition while you still can and seriously consider the 5 or 6 CD editions. If all you care about is the finished product of 11 songs, there is still a strong argument to made that because of the low fidelity that you should just buy ANY CD edition and be happy. If you want fidelity and only 11 tracks, yes, I can recommend the Blu-ray and SACD, but I would encourage you to ‘Peel Slowly and See’ what the fuss was all about and explore this work with a better edition.

Summary: I cannot recommend the Blu-ray unless you want a low cost alternative to the SACD
 

Blu-ray Only basic album. Zero extras. High fidelity release of low fidelity classic LP - BUT They could have easily included much, much more on the Blu-ray
SHM-SACD Only basic album. Zero extras. Highest fidelity release of low fidelity classic LP
Deluxe 2 CD Set Best value. Sounds good, and has the most important extra tracks
Peel & See Box Great value, explores this album and other VU works
6 CD Anni. Box Set If you really want to study this album, take the plunge and get the whole thing

 

Daniel Lalla

April 17th, 2014

 

Tools Used:

MacPro with iTunes 11 using AudirvanaPlus.
XLD used for all file format conversions where needed.
AudioLEq Version 3 (paid version) for analysis and histogram
Output through TEAC UD-501 USB DAC (driverless in Mac OSX) with direct DSD support
Parallels Windows partition with Foobar 2000 with SACD and Dynamic Range plugins, using TEAC ASIO driver
Some album information is drawn from Wikipedia and other sources on the internet.

Daniel Lalla

 

     

 




 

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