Velvet Underground tribute hits and misses


Ryan Meyer, Columnist

“I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico,” a collection of prominent alternative artists covering all the songs from the vastly influential band’s first record from 1967, was released on Friday. It features names like former REM lead singer Michael Stipe, Matt Berninger of the National, and St. Vincent, just to name a few.  

While I enjoy some of the songs on the original album, it isn’t exactly my cup of tea, as I have yet to embrace the noisy and experimental side of the Velvet Underground. Songs like “Femme Fatale” are beautifully covered here, though. Sharon Van Etten takes the cake for the best execution on the cover record with this one. The instrumentation is minimal, however it wouldn’t be the same without the wall of fuzz cascading in the background.  

Other songs don’t go over as well, like “European Son,” covered by Iggy Pop. It’s nearly eight minutes of guitar noise and feedback and an occasional scream from Iggy, and I just can’t bring myself to like it.  

There is some good guitar on the record though in “Run Run Run,” covered by Kurt Vile. Vile’s singing also works well in this song, transitioning between near-hollering and psychedelic group chants of the chorus.  

I was looking forward to hearing the cover of “Heroin,” which is probably my favorite song on the original. Thurston Moore and Bobby Gillespie couldn’t quite match the magnitude of the song, though which granted, is no easy task. Maybe it’s the strings in the background or Lou Reed’s trademark delivery. I’d be interested to see how the War on Drugs could cover this song, given their capacity for absolutely expanding long songs into arena-ready odysseys. 

I got my hopes up for the Fontaines D.C. cover of “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” given the fact that they’re one of my favorite new bands, but I don’t like the original song much, so there wasn’t much of a chance. They do make it considerably more rhythmic, likely due to Tom Coll’s drumming and Grian Chatten’s vocal delivery.  

What I’m discovering is that if I don’t really like the original songs, I’m probably not going to like covers, regardless of whether or not they’re some of the biggest names in alternative music, from Iggy Pop to Fontaines D.C. For me to appreciate some of these noisier and experimental tracks, there’d have to be more of a reimagining and more distinct melodies, which wouldn’t really work in a tribute setting. This cover album remains important, though, because it’s bringing attention to one of the most important bands of the 60s.  

Ryan Meyer is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 581-2812.