Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Defense Of: The Velvet Underground - Loaded

You may be confused as to why I am choosing to defend this record. This is already a perfect record. I mean, it's the Velvet fucking Underground, right? But in this first entry for the In Defense Of: series, I choose to defend this record in comparison to the other Velvet Underground records.

Because let's face it, every Velvet Underground record is a masterpiece. The Velvet Underground & Nico? Please, let's move on, because A. I've already discussed it at length previously and B. if you don't like the record, you are doomed for an existence in the Hellscape of rock and roll. White Light/White Heat is an experimentalist's dream come true, with all the avant-garde elements finally coming to fruition in a hectic and chaotic wall of noise surrounding the disarming beauty of "Here She Comes Now." The Velvet Underground is a much quieter affair, focusing much more on that same unguarded beauty in "Here She Comes Now," with just as good results. It's still a visceral record, but it's a quiet sort of visceral, one that silently pulls at your heart rather than just sort of tearing it out.

But Loaded? It's sort of the black sheep in the VU canon. Lou Reed's voice was deteriorating at a fairly alarming rate (Doug Yule had to often pick up Lou's leads on tour when his voice gave out). And for the recording of Loaded, Moe Tucker, the percussionist, was out on maternity leave, basically. So you see, the original Velvets were losing it. The drummer gone and the lead man perpetually listed as "Questionable" on every day of touring or recording (this is a pro football reference, for those who do not understand)? Not a great recipe for success.

And since the Velvets had finally secured the funds to make something even remotely polished, this subjected them to the thumb of the record label (whereas before they were allowed to really roam as free as they wished). Hence the title, Loaded, 'cause all the label wanted was a record loaded with hits...get it? It's probably a behind-the-back jibe at the label, knowing Lou Reed. But with those extra funds to achieve a bigger sound came the risk of having to sacrifice artistic freedom for commercial viability (the crux of the issue for any self-respecting artist).

Loaded proved a couple of things: the first is that Lou Reed could write anthemic, truly catchy pop songs. "Sweet Jane" is as anthemic as it gets. You just want to scream "Sweet Jane" along with Lou. "Who Loves the Sun"? I don't, thanks to Lou (and Doug for the vocal). And so on and so forth. The second thing is that (at least in those days) it was possible to perfect art without sacrificing it for commerical viability. "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll" were fairly large hits (and still receive play today) while still being legitimate songs in their own right, and being able to form those tracks and the others into a legitimate album.

While Loaded is already a virtual masterpiece, the "What could have been?"s that plague the development of this record lead us to figure that, man, if most of it could have been, how much more awesome could this record even get? Numerous Velvets have sort of ragged on the record itself. Morrison wanted all the vocal leads to have been done by Lou. Doug Yule himself thinks he may have been a little overused on the record (he even stepped in on drums in Moe Tucker's absence).

I am of the opinion that all this "What could have been?" talk sort of diminishes the view that people have on the record. Let's focus our eyes on the prize. Evaluate what you have, not what you could have had. You're better off that way. And when you take that, what you have is a record of pure pop perfection. The other thing that always puts a downer on this record is the past record of the Velvets. Pioneers in art-rock, proto-punk (and therefore punk), experimental, and avant-garde, where does this fit in? It really doesn't. Loaded is simply a pop record. But when disassociated from the rest of the Velvets' legacy, well, it turns out to be a fantastic record. And that is why I chose to defend Loaded in this entry, though it shouldn't need defense. Loaded is regarded as inferior because of its associates. That is no way to treat a masterpiece.

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