Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Velvet Underground 4: Loaded

By the time of their contract with the Atlantic offshoot Cotillion, Lou and the band decided to make a conscious effort to achieve mass appeal. Hence, their next album was designed to be Loaded with radio-friendly hits.
And for the most part, it is. This of course is the album with both “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll” on it, both songs that became staples of Classic Rock radio long before the format had been finalized.
But whether by Lou’s growing indifference or his decision to let Doug Yule sing some of the songs, it doesn’t have the edge that made the Velvet Underground so… well, edgy. “Who Loves The Sun” is a catchy opener, but here the arrangement makes it sound like the Monkees. (How could Lou have approved that fey a cappella break in the middle?) “Cool It Down” exudes a New York swagger, with Lou harmonizing with himself. The potentially epic “New Age” could have been one of his better story songs had he only sang it himself. (And indeed, he used to, with different lyrics, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.)
It’s been said that the album was completed without Lou’s input, and the snippet of vocal that leads into “Head Held High” would suggest that it was supposed to follow “I Found A Reason”, which ends on the same note two tracks later. Both are half-decent songs, “Head Held High” a good rocker and “I Found A Reason” nice doo-wop. In the middle is “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”, which doesn’t fit at all. “Train Round The Bend” is an excuse to write a song around a tremolo guitar, while “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” is a long song similar to the end of side one, with a guitar sounding more like Dave Mason.
Loaded was a nice try, but ultimately it pales in comparison to their other studio albums. Besides, with Moe Tucker out on maternity leave, the drums just sound wrong when played by anyone else. Nonetheless, critics have raved over it since its release, and its legend grew when compared to live recordings from the same period. After the band’s 1995 box set included some outtakes from the sessions, Rhino (which had gained access to the LP through their association with Atlantic) unveiled a “Fully Loaded Edition” to flesh out the story. “Sweet Jane”, “Rock & Roll” and “New Age” were restored to their original lengths, alongside several alternate mixes, demos and rehearsals of the songs. It also included full band versions of such later Lou solo classics as “Satellite Of Love”, “Sad Song” and “Oh Gin”, plus further attempts at “Ocean”, “Ride Into The Sun” and other “lost” VU favorites. (Admittedly it’s nitpicking, but as we’d gotten so used to the edited version of “Sweet Jane” over the years, it would have been nice to include that somewhere in the package. After all, Lou himself has barely sung that lost verse since 1969.)
All but one of those extras were included as part of the band’s 45th Anniversary Edition series. The other three discs consisted of a promotional mono mix of the album (including the “short” versions of “Sweet Jane” and “New Age”), single mixes, an abridged selection of music from the final Max’s Kansas City show, and a fascinating if frustrating bootleg of a May 1970 Philadelphia gig. Fascinating because the band played as a trio, without Moe, though Doug played drums on three songs; frustrating because the sound is atrocious.

The Velvet Underground Loaded (1970)—3
1997 Fully Loaded Edition: same as 1970, plus 22 extra tracks
2015 Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition: same as 1970, plus 65 extra tracks (and DVD)


  1. Don't take this the wrong way, because I really do enjoy your reviews... but the fact that you gave "Loaded" and the Dylan Christmas album the same rating kind of makes me feel like the universe is off-kilter. :-)

  2. It's all part of the grand scheme... I really do spend a lot of time on the ratings, even if it doesn't seem that way!

    But in this case, the first three VU albums rate higher than both Loaded and the Dylan Xmas album. Please keep reading, maybe it'll start to make sense.