It’s not for nothing that Rolling Stone magazine named The Velvet Underground & Nico the most prophetic album of all time. If the hippies hoped that universal fraternity, peace and love would be the basis for some teleological, utopian future, it is Lou Reed’s vision that – however unhappily – dominates contemporary society. 60s counter culture may have played some small part in bringing the Vietnam War to an end, but the only real way to escape, “The bodies piling up in ‘Nam” (or Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc if you like), in the long run, is to get smashed on heroine, cake or triple sod. With its endless snapshots of drug taking, vanity, war, restlessness, sex and S&M, it is still startlingly modern, and, though I write this with some trepidation, I can think of no other album that speaks more accurately, however unnervingly, about my life, where taking drugs seemed like the only way to take a stand against and escape from the horror and boredom of everyday life.

And it’s not just the lyrical content that still feels razor sharp. If the vision is Reed’s then the sound is most definitely Cale’s. The screeching violins on the frankly awesome ‘Venus In Furs’ and the crescendo in ‘Heroine’ still feel revelatory – what would you compare them to? – and the hypnotic piano drone on ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ still feels original in a truly literal sense.

It seems surreal then, for such an album that deals solely in realism, for it to have a 6 disc 45th anniversary edition. Why not just wait until 50? It’s not like it will become irrelevant in the meantime. Nor am I too sure about the validity of such multi disc anniversary editions with their litany of tedious outtakes – why not preserve the mystique of the original, and save yourself a load of money at the same time? Still, this is not aimed at the casual fan, but the truly obsessive/wealthy, and there really is a lot to sink your teeth into on this £67.70 (!) boxset. The first two discs are stereo and mono versions of the album respectively, garnished with the usual sprig of parsley – outtakes and alternate versions. That’s not to detract from the importance of having both mono and stereo version of an album in one place, because, as we know from The Beatles remasters, it really can make a big difference. George Lucas syndrome, whereby past masters mess with and marr classics, is prominent here.

From here on in you get a much better sense of value for money. Disc 3 features Nico’s newly remastered 1967 folk classic Chelsea Girl, and it really is a must have for fans of 60s folk and Nick Drake in particular. The often somber subject matter, and orchestral arrangements make for something altogether different to everything else on offer here. Disc 4 features the Scepter Studio Sessions, which were previously a rare bootleg, and more inferior versions of tracks perfected elsewhere. Disc 4’s previously unreleased Factory Rehearsals are genuinely excellent, and Disc 5’s remastered Live At Valleydale Ballroom show perfectly captures the experimentalism and brutality of their live shows. It must have been an aural assault for all but the most tolerant audience. The 28 minute live jam, ‘Melody Laughter’, takes a while to get going, but it does give the listener a good idea of how The Velvet Underground constructed their ingenious sound, and when it does eventually get going it sounds impossibly similar to the The War On Drugs’ 2011 sonic-beauty Slave Ambient.

When you’re growing up many will impart wisdom on albums to which you have to listen. Some will disappoint and others will impress, but few will overwhelm like The Velvet Underground & Nico. If you haven’t already bought it, then I suggest you leave this review mid-sentence and bloody well do so immediately – this is not mere hyperbole, you have to have this album in your life. If you do already have it, then this might be for you. Certainly, you won’t find a more exhaustive collection of Velvets related material anywhere else, but you may find it more exhausting than exhaustive. Why spend hours trawling through outtakes and rarities when the original record has so much replay value? Why, because this genuinely is one of the greatest albums of all time, and if you have to be such a boring geek about music (as we all do from time to time!) and buy one extended anniversary edition of any album, then it should be this one.  Plus, it come with a free Andy Warhol in the shape of a fluorescent yellow banana. Who could say no to that?

Release Date 29/10/2012 (UMe)

Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...