Jeffrey Morgan's Media Blackout

Jan 2, 2008 at 12:00 am

SIZZLING PLATTER OF THE WEEK: The ScenicsHow Does It Feel to Be Loved: The Scenics Play the Velvet Underground (Dream Tower) :: Only a madman would dare to start picking his Top 10 Albums of 2008 in the first week of January, but this is one record that's got me gnawing on my straitjacket.

Recorded live in a number of trashy Toronto punk dives between 1977 and 1981, it's the first album of Velvet Underground covers I've ever heard that actually manages to evoke the VU's classic cacophony of studio sound — something that latter day Doug Yule-infused live albums like Live at Max's Kansas City never seemed to attain.

But somehow the Scenics have managed to do just that with an edge-teetering fan-based fervor that doesn't seek to duplicate the Velvets' sound so much as it uses that primal distortion as a jumping off point to differentiate themselves from the masters while remaining true to the source. And the fact that all 10 numbers were recorded, in true live Velvets tradition, on a buncha crappy cassette tapes doesn't tarnish the Scenics' sonic patina — it only enhances their chances of making this the best VU tribute album ever.

First of all, there's their informed choice of song selection. Sure, they do a few obligatory standards like "I'm Waiting for My Man" and "I'll Be Your Mirror," but they also mine the less-obvious depths of Unca Lou's songbook to essay what are arguably some of his greatest songs: "New Age," "I'm Set Free," "What Goes On," "Here She Comes Now" and "I Heard Her Call My Name." Finally, it all culminates literally live in a basement with a twisted 10-minute Metal Machine Music-meets-Television version of "Sister Ray" that even John Cale never envisioned in his wildest nightmares.

So, if the proceedings sound even more demented than you might expect, that's because the Scenics don't ape the Velvets, they enhance them—which only goes to show that sometimes between rot and depression there lies a lifeline.

Girls melt in the heat!