Led by the late Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground embodied the counter-culture of the sixties. Brian Eno famously said of The Velvet Underground that even though they did not sell many albums at the time, everyone who bought one formed a band. Andy Warhol himself involved the band in his artistic collaborations and helped bring German singer Nico to the band. Their first album, simply titled The Velvet Underground & Nico, debuted in 1967 and has become a cult classic.
Written by Lou Reed but sung by Nico, “I’ll Be Your Mirror” showed a softer side to the otherwise edgy album. While other tracks feature lyrics like “Heroin, be the death of me” (“Heroin”) and “Watch out, the world’s behind you” (“Sunday Morning”), “I’ll Be Your Mirror” depicts a narrator offering to show someone who they really are. Nico sings in her deadpan manner, a strangely comforting voice in this ballad: “I find it hard to believe that you don’t know / the beauty that you are.”
Enter Beck, the nineties prodigy whose latest album Morning Phase won the 2015 Grammy Album of the Year. While known for tongue-in-cheek tunes like “Loser,” Beck has also proved to be familiar with the art of ballads. “Blue Moon” from Morning Phase serves as a prime example of the Beck ballad: light drums, airy vocals, and layers of sound.
Our Mid-Week Cover for this this week is Beck’s version of “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Beck keeps with the spirit of The Velvet Underground & Nico while subtly infusing it with the ingredients of the Beck ballad. The melody remains the same, but Beck’s vocals, aided by backing artist Thorunn Magnusdottir, adds depth to the song.
It’s a heavier “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” but not so heavy that the original meaning is eclipsed. Rather, Beck’s adaptation is a faithful one, paying homage to the original while flavoring the song with his own personal style. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” lives on as what it always was: a beautiful, almost bittersweet, ballad about perceptions and identity.
For more on Beck’s tributes to The Velvet Underground, look here.