There is a fine line between taking inspiration or homage and blatantly ripping something off from another artist. Even Arctic Monkeys would admit that they towed that line and verged into imitation territory on more than one occasion — thanks to The Velvet Underground, that is.
Arctic Monkeys are not the first band to incorporate the genius of the New York pioneers into their sound, and they won’t be the last. In fact, it’s a fitting homage to a band that played a metamorphic role in establishing the identity of alternative music. At least, when the Sheffield four-piece paid tribute to The Velvet Underground, they didn’t even try to hide it and hid it in as plain sight as possible.
Their fifth album, AM, helped the group break new ground, and the title was a direct steal from The Velvet Underground’s compilation album VU. The latter, which arrived in 1985, featured outtakes recorded to the backend of the 1960s. Although AM is the Arctic Monkey’s slickest and polished record of their career, there was something that stuck with frontman Alex Turner about VU and, subsequently, played a role in his own work. “I actually stole it from the Velvet Underground, I’ll just confess that now and get it out of the way. The VU record, obviously,” Alex Turner shamelessly told Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 in 2013.
The singer self-deprecatingly added, “Did we cop out? Yeah! Summat about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right to just initial it.”
Only a month after Arctic Monkeys released the album, they were on the road when the tragic news struck of the passing of Velvet Underground’s principal songwriter and one of the all-time iconic figures of alternative rock and roll, Lou Reed, had died.
The band did what they know best and transferred their feelings, Turner leading the band into an honest and authentic tribute to the late musician at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool with a riveting performance of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. It’s appropriate that the hottest album of the year that Reed died symbolically wore its influence of him literally and figuratively on its sleeve. Even after his passing, Reed’s presence can still be felt even in something as small or seemingly insignificant as an album title, representing a passing of the torch moment from one renegade to his dissidents.
Reed’s energy will live on through the following generations who grew up worshipping his talents, and this ripe cover of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ proves we are in safe hands.