Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Velvet Underground - Loaded

Release Dates: September 1970

★★★★★ Tracks:
Nearly All of Them

It’s been well documented that Velvet Underground’s fourth album was pandering to the billboard charts. Lou Reed and Co. had three of the most influential records of the 60’s under their belts and still didn't have a pot to piss in. With them now signed to mega-label Atlantic, the name Loaded was chosen for the title stemming from the notion it should be loaded with hits. And even with commercialism and mainstream success a driving force to the creation of this record, Lou Reed simply couldn’t find a way to fuck it up, Loaded is in fact completely loaded with hit after fantastic hit.

You won’t find a record with three stronger tracks in succession than Loaded's “Sweet Jane,” “Rock & Roll,” and “Cool It Down.” “Sweet Jane” is up there with “I’m Waiting For the Man” as the best Velvet Underground song ever. Scratch that, best song ever. Some might not recognize it by song title alone, but it becomes as familiar as an old Beatles hit once the melody begins. It'll always get some FM airplay, but its familiarity is most likely due to the fact that this song shaped a blueprint so many would eventually build upon. The four-chord progression, to the awesome solos, to the “Sweeeeeeet Jane!” anthems, to the cocky confidence Lou has in his vocals, this is what every guitar-driven indie rock’n’roll band wants to sound like. Just about every other song here is a gem as well; “Rock & Roll” has some slick guitar work, there’s a throwback to Lou’s doo-wop days in “I Found a Reason,” a Beatles-esque jam in “Who Loves the Sun,” and another bluesy New York number in “Train Round the Bend.”

I might go with The Velvet Underground & Nico album as my overall favorite from the group, but Loaded is the one I play the most. A great record is a great record, and I could give two shits if they were considered by some to be selling out, or that this is considered their least essential, or experimental record. The fact is this is the VU at their most listenable and accessible, and there isn’t anything wrong with a great record everyone can get on board with. And while the three previous records might have been more influential to VU followers, Loaded is the record that represents a strong counterpoint to the argument that an attempt at mainstream success voids artistic merit -- the two can exist harmoniously. Although Warhol’s presence had long been absent from the Velvet Underground, this album is a testament to everything Lou Reed learned from the eccentric artist, Loaded is a fully realized artistic masterpiece, but with a keen eye for and the willingness to adapt to the pulse of pop culture.

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