Distortion. Either you love it or you hate it, and that will determine whether you love or hate the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," which was the final album with John Cale on it. It's strange, raw and eerie, and except for the too-long finale, a fairly good collection.
It kicks off with distorted pop song "White Light/White Heat," and gets followed by equally distorted series of offbeat songs, such as the sex-change operation ballad "Lady Godiva's Operation," the relatively ethereal "Here She Comes Now," and the twisted, squealing riffs of "I Heard Her Call My Name."
"The Gift" is perhaps the most offbeat of all the tracks here: A spoken story-song, recited matter-of-factly in John Cale's Welsh accent. It's about a jealous husband who, in doubt about his wife's fidelity, mails himself to her house. Sounds ordinary enough, except that there is a twist to the finale, both funny and macabre.
This is one of the darker albums that the Velvet Underground did, as well as the last one that was so experimental. The finale is almost twenty minutes of screeching, explosive guitar riffs, and the story-song is definitely odd. But once you get into the swing of it, it's remarkably moving.
The fuzz and wildness of "White Light/White Heat" is definitely offputting at first -- the melodies are buried under a perpetual buzz of sound. That lo-fi flavor won't be to everyone's taste, but those who like their music rough, raw and ragged will probably like the murky riffs and muffled drumming, rising out of a thick mass of fuzz.
For those who don'ty like distortion, it might be a comfort to just focus on the offbeat lyrics -- they can be vulgar, nasty, enchanting, or they can be brimful of black comedy. At least, they are never boring. In his VU swansong, Cale gets to recite and sing, and his rich vocals prove to be somewhat more compelling than Lou Reed's.
While perhaps the weakest, rawest and least accessible of the Velvet Underground's albums, "White Light/White Heat" has the distinction of Cale's vocals and some wickedly weird writing.