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Various Artists - I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground and Nico Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground and Nico Music Album Reviews
St. Vincent, Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, Iggy Pop, and more contribute this tasteful if predictable cover album, faring best when their own identities shine through the music.

The Velvet Underground & Nico is one of rock music’s sacred texts. More than 50 years since its release, its heady cocktail of ostrich-tuned proto-punk, droning viola, and streetwise poetry has lost little of its potency. Part of the fun has always been finding new details within the VU’s history, and now there’s more to sink your teeth into with Todd Haynes’ upcoming documentary and a star-studded tribute to the band’s 1967 classic. The track-by-track cover album I’ll Be Your Mirror is the final project from the late producer Hal Willner, a longtime friend of Lou Reed. The artists Willner invited to the project span large-font festival headliners and up, leaving little room for unpredictability. People have been reinterpreting these songs and smoothing out their transgressive edges for decades, but the best of these covers prove that there are still surprising places to take them.

R.E.M. kept the VU’s torch burning during the 1980s, covering three of their songs, thus making Michael Stipe a natural choice to take on the opening “Sunday Morning.” It’s a pleasure to hear his voice alongside Bill Frissell on guitar, as synths and clarinets lend the song a patient and regal air. Elsewhere, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen slow “Femme Fatale” to the pace of a mournful movie trailer, while Andrew Bird and Lucius transform “Venus in Furs” into twee orchestral pop. The latter ode to sadomasochism no longer sounds especially sexy or dangerous, but the eerie harmonies combined with Bird’s frenetic violin are an effective update nonetheless.

The album’s other team-ups vary in success. St. Vincent and pianist Thomas Bartlett’s take on “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is a far cry from her more radical covers, like her shredding take on the Pop Group. Instead, its spacey ambience and spoken-word vocoder is closer in spirit to “O Superman,” the signature song of Reed’s partner, Laurie Anderson. Thurston Moore, Bobby Gillespie, and Fucked Up drummer Jonah Falco tackling “Heroin” is a thrilling prospect on paper, but after chasing the dragon for seven minutes, it never really connects. Iggy Pop and Matt Sweeney’s “European Son,” on the other hand, is a feedback-laced freakout that sounds just as unhinged as the original.

The artists who fare best on I’ll Be Your Mirror emphasize their own strengths. Dublin post-punk band Fontaines D.C. inject “The Black Angel’s Death Song” with enough yammering snarl to sound like an Irish Mark E. Smith. King Princess puts a queer spin on the toxic jealousy of “There She Goes Again,” while Kurt Vile’s “Run Run Run” lets a choogling outro ride far beyond the original’s rolling chug. The biggest letdown is Matt Berninger’s straightforward stab at “I’m Waiting for the Man,” which has neither the jittery pulse of the original nor the forceful delivery of Nico’s own cover from the early ’80s.

After decades of similar covers, it shouldn’t be surprising that the best songs on I’ll Be Your Mirror are the ones where artists imprint their own identity on the music, rather than aping a band that already inspired countless strains of rock, punk, and experimental music. And while it’s hard to imagine how anyone involved with the VU’s album would feel about this tasteful tribute, its very existence still speaks to the force of the original vision. After all this time, artists are still peeling back layers of the banana.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Various Artists - I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground and Nico Music Album Reviews Various Artists - I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground and Nico Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 04, 2021 Rating: 5

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