Sunday, September 8, 2013

Velvet Underground - Squeeze

In 2001, Velvet Underground guitarist Doug Yule offered this explanation for the unthinkable decision to carry on the band’s moniker without Lou Reed: “Bands were- and occasionally are today-one of the few truly democratic institutions. You can’t fire someone from a band…In a band, everyone’s equal. If they’re not, it’s not a band. When band’s need to change, to lose one or two people, they break apart and reform. The majority keep the name.”

This explanation may have held some weight with the Velvet’s immediately after Reed departed; Yule and Mo Tucker continued to perform as the band (augmented with two other players) and they were arguably entitled to do so.

But after a few gigs and the glaring reality that nobody gave a shit about the Velvet Underground without Reed at the helm, the point should have been very clear to Yule that it was time to leave the convenience of his quasi-notorious moniker and seek out creative fulfillment on his own.

Squeeze is a Doug Yule solo album, plain and simple. And the argument of whether the blame of allowing the Velvet Underground name grace the cover rests on him or manager Steve Sesnick is irrelevant.

Both should have known better.

It’s painfully obvious with the cover art-which is hugely indebted to the look of Loaded-that both were intending to draw some kind of consistency with the last proper Velvets release.

Unfortunately, within moments of Squeeze’s first track, “Little Jack,” you notice that this has nothing in common with its predecessor. Spend a little more time with it and you almost get the sense that Squeeze is the only dud in the Velvet’s otherwise perfect catalog and could have caused even more damage to their legacy if it wasn’t for the fact that it never received a proper release in the band’s native country.

It’s lighthearted, breezy and completely lacking in the Velvet’s reality-caked character studies. While Reed’s subject matters often represent the wrong side of the tracks, “Little Jack” attempts to do the same by lamenting how “mother dear” left him alone to let the streets raise him. Yule even admits that Jack’s “life was lily white,” which further illustrates the divide between him and Reed’s songwriting prowess.

Musically, everything on Squeeze is incredibly pedestrian. Yule is a decent enough guitarist, but there’s barely a hint of character in his playing, and he appears to be doing double duty on bass throughout the record.

The female vocalists who pop up now and then are uncredited and the drummer is none other than Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. Paice is a remarkable drummer, but if there was ever an example of how Maureen Tucker’s primitive abilities trump his technical prowess, it is glaringly obvious on this set. His rapid-fire fills and quick precision stick out like a sore thumb, further adding to the glaringly obvious notion that Squeeze is a Velvet Underground album in name alone, and not even a worthy springboard to Doug Yule’s post-Velvet career.

Surprisingly, its quick departure from the musical landscape (after being out of print for almost 40 years, you can now get Squeeze on an unauthorized compact disc-mastered directly from vinyl-if you've got some pressing need to be ridiculed) made sure that it didn’t drag the Velvet’s name down with it. 

Meanwhile, the poor performance of Squeeze’s overall execution also ensured that Yule himself was quickly downgraded to an afterthought, never once again being offered an opportunity to relish in the critical glow that the Velvet’s originally afforded him.

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