Castle Face Records and Friends The Velvet Underground & Nico Castle Face LP
Article written by
Ged M - Apr 6, 2013
It takes some balls to cover the seminal Velvet Underground and Nico album for its 45th anniversary. There have been covers before – not often successful either - so to record versions of these songs in album order is some going. Thankfully we know that San Francisco‘s Castle Face label and friends – people like Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys and White Fence - are up to the challenge and what emerges is close enough to be a proper tribute without being either wilfully different or a slavish copy.
Kelly Stoltz’s gorgeous ‘Sunday Morning’ is warm and melodic, like the original but with extra honey, while White Fence turn ‘Run Run Run’ into catchy psych-pop and The Mallard offer an almost indiepop take of ‘There She Goes Again’, fast and strummy and finishing with an blast of crazy guitars as if they don’t know how to stop. Ty Segall’s take on 'Femme Fatale' though is dramatically different, like someone who only vaguely remembers the original, an onslaught of falsetto vocals, fearsome feedback and spat out vocals.
How do you cover the really dark songs though? Warm Soda’s version of ‘I’m Waiting For the Man’ is fast and jittery, like Brian Eno in his oddpop phase, while the Fresh & Onlys’ ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ can’t match the droning tones of Nico’s voice but add a heartbeat bass pulse and a psych-pop veneer. Blasted Canyons’ ‘Venus In Furs’ catches the unnerving drones and shrieking guitars of the original, giving you the same feel as fingernails on chalkboards, without trying to ape the S&M weirdness (which wouldn’t be nearly as transgressive now as in 1967). ‘Heroin’ seems so definitive a junkie song that it should be hard to cover but the Burnt Ones start almost shoegazey and then get more intense as they explore the fast/ slow dynamics of the song like a surgeon probes a gunshot wound. Finally Thee Oh Sees finish things off with on ‘European Son’ in their magnificently crazed style, all discordant guitars, keyboards wildly semaphoring and drums maintaining a fierce rhythm.
The 45th anniversary of the VU & Nico brought out so many variations and bonuses that you might have thought you’d heard everything of that album that you needed to. But here’s one more record that understands the original and then builds on it.