Wednesday, February 11, 2004

#76) Velvet Underground - Loaded (released in 1970, the last thing I bought in Bloomington, IN before moving the summer of '94 was a used CD of this from one of the many cool record stores downtown. When I got the Peel Slowly And See box set, I gave that copy to my sister)

Lou Reed says this isn’t really a Velvet Underground album, probably because that drum kit with hi-hat is not being played by Maureen Tucker. I can’t even say it’s the only great Lou Reed solo album in existence either, since Doug Yule sings lead on a couple tracks. What I can say is that Loaded is the only post-Pickwick evidence of Lou Reed playing in a pop band, and that I enjoy it a lot. If the “gray album” signaled a (however brief) abandonment of subversion and nihilism, then Loaded finds him taking what he has left – a great band, a hook-filled brain and a desire for romance, and just knocking off an album of winning tunes. That’s what pop bands do, right?

I’m curious how ironic this album felt for VU fans in 1970. The musical arrangements are solid but unchallenging, almost generic. The sentiments aren’t startling either: rock is good, love is good but losing it is bad, keep your head held high. The closest we get to controversy (and searing sonics, for that matter) is a dismissal of country life on “Train Round The Bend,” which has little of the acrid edge of the Talking Heads’ “The Big Country.” This actually makes Loaded all the more impressive if you think about it. It’s a rich, beautiful album despite the lack of perversity and musical jolts that were at one time the Velvets’ raison d’etre. And to Doug “Judas? George Lazenby? Cousin Oliver?” Yule’s credit, it was years before I realized that Lou wasn’t singing on every track.

Unfortunately, Reed’s ego was too fragile to take the managerial power struggles that followed its creation and spent the next decade being some kind of icon, getting spanked and wanked by producers way cooler with ‘70s rawk production than I am. The two discs of his box set devoted to the pre-rehab period can sometimes compete with the Velvets’ rarities comps (except when he’s redoing those rarities, which are always superior). I’m a little more interested in Lou’s Blue Mask-on mundane chatterbox stuff these days, probably because I read a lot of Robert Christgau.

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