A lighter, friendlier Velvet Underground showed its head on Loaded. This is Lou Reed's V.U. with Cale mostly pushed out, manager Warhol fired, Mo Tucker on leave for pregnancy, and little brother Yule on fill-in duties. Hell, even Lou didn't stick around for the entirety of this album, and no doubt, this is a highly compromised version of the band. The edge, the drone, the attitude, all are largely absent. This was done in a spirit of concession to the biz and to radio or less charitably as a last effort to make a fistful of cash while the ship was going under the waves. It is the corporate Velvet Underground, and yet, it is still a serendipitous beauty of a pop album with just a little bit more.
To some extent, let's call it an entry-level V.U. album. This was their album that I most enjoyed when first listening to them, but it pales somewhat in comparison to the more artistic and complex prior albums. What Loaded has in spades is melody. "Who Loves the Sun" is the sappiest, hippiest, most lyrically frown-inducing song of their career, and with its ba-ba-ba melodies and crisp, sunny acoustic guitars it could be a single by any number of sixties pop acts. It's hard to imagine The Partridge Family singing "Heroin" or "Waiting for the Man" but one could see them singing this and other gleefully pop moments on Loaded, which makes it somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow for aficionados of their other work.
However, to dismiss this album for its accessibility is unfair and myopic. "Sweet Jane" is an utterly perfect song, from the sparkling and weird intro through to its rapturous chorus and Lou's rattled, poetic musings, to the 'la la' finale. "Rock and Roll" is another beauty, with one hot, sharp solo and some fuzzy throwback guitar, a great exultation of the power of rock & roll music in its energy and youth. "New Age" in its portrait of a washed up old Hollywood actress and sombre, dark sound recalls the painterliness of their debut. "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is a perfect heartfelt goodbye from the band.
Yes, some of the album is marred by Doug Yule's inferior vocals, studio interference, and something of a drop in songwriting as the group disintegrated. The energy level is often a lot lower than on all of the other albums and the overtures to commercial success are plain to be seen, but the result is still a classic, essential farewell from this great rock art experimen