Having accomplished their mission to make the music world safe for skronk, the Velvet Underground turned down, tuned up and made a disarming third album of considerable charm and delicacy. The departure of John Cale is an unlikely explanation for the change of tone (likewise the band’s decision to produce itself); Lou Reed’s “whaddya-got?” rebel instincts seem a safer bet.
In addition to foretastes of the intimate, conversational solo work he’d make more than a decade later, The Velvet Underground contains some of Reed’s most refined and enduring songwriting: the folk-rocky “Beginning to See the Light,” the even more folky “I’m Set Free,” the haunting “Pale Blue Eyes” and the garage-band-ready “What Goes On.”
For a band that initially set out to break stuff and dare people to listen, this likable, even lovable, album forsakes the clangor with a radical logic all its own. Though Reed is unmistakably in charge here, rhythm guitarist Sterling Morrison, drummer Maureen Tucker (who sings the genially acoustic “After Hours”) and new bassist Doug Yule combine to make the Velvet Underground sound, for the first time, like a cohesive band rather than five musicians going wild simultaneously.