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An Underground Classic

A look at one of Lou Reed’s final projects: a deluxe three-disc reissue of the Velvet Underground’s seminal ”White Light/White Heat”

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On Jan. 30, 1968 — nearly 10 months ahead of the Beatles’ White Album — the Velvet Underground unleashed the original “black album.” Literally sheathed in darkness, the downtown radicals’ White Light/White Heat is the blistering, unfettered document that obliterated the boring old rules of rock; the late Lou Reed famously called it “the Statue of Liberty of punk.” But even the best monuments undergo renovations. So Reed and fellow VU founder John Cale worked together one last time on an expanded edition of their prickly masterpiece. For connoisseurs and the curious alike, White Light/White Heat: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (out now) is loaded with goods — both the original stereo and mono versions of the album are here, plus fresh mixes, unreleased songs, and the bootleg gem Live at the Gymnasium.

And while not all the new stuff is mind-altering, it’s at least eye-opening. There’s an early, jaunty version of “Beginning to See the Light” from Cale’s final studio session with the band, an instrumental take on the notoriously wordy Cale narrative “The Gift,” and rare versions of “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore” and “Guess I’m Falling in Love.” The crown jewel may be an even longer and more clamorous live “Sister Ray,” clocking in at a thrillingly chaotic 19 minutes. (You’re welcome, noiseniks!)

The packaging too is crammed with bonuses: Lengthy liner notes include an erudite essay from Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, reproductions of concert posters, and little-seen scene photos. Taken together, it’s as definitive a testament as there can be to a band whose Heat feels as searing now as it did nearly half a century ago.