For The Velvet Underground & Nico’s 50th anniversary back in 2017, several artists including the late Hal Willner began talking about a tribute album – in this case, a record that would be track-by-track covers of the original record – but it wasn’t until this year that the album was released. On September 17th, Sharon Van Etten’s version of “Femme Fatale” was released, following the releases of “European Son” (Iggy Pop & Matt Sweeney), “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (Courtney Barnett), “I’m Waiting For The Man” (Matt Berninger), and “Run Run Run” (Kurt Vile & The Violators). Though the record itself was released on September 24th (check it out at the link below), today I’ll just be talking about Sharon Van Etten’s version of “Femme Fatale.”
While the original was reminiscent of other bands of the era – The Beach Boys and The Beatles come to mind – Sharon Van Etten has slowed down the tempo and turned what could be classified as “just another song in that 60’s vein” into a powerful piano ballad. Complete with string orchestration and Angel Olsen on backing vocals, Van Etten’s version of “Femme Fatale” showcases the power of the lyrics written by Lou Reed. Though they have always been powerful, they seem to function better in this new context that Van Etten has created for them.
That’s not to say anything negative about The Velvet Underground & Nico. Without that record, we wouldn’t have many of the greatest artists of the last 50 years. It’s just to say that Van Etten’s reimagining is possibly going to hit newer listeners harder and get them into their feelings more than The Velvet Underground’s version. That string orchestration is sublime, and the space provided at the beginning within the piano and sparse drums allow the listener to get settled in faster.
Ultimately, it’s up to you as to which version you prefer. Be sure to let us know, though! We’ve linked both versions within this article (as well as the full tribute record, which you should absolutely check out as well), so we’d love to hear from you!