Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Velvet Underground: Loaded

"She started dancing to that fine, fine music
You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll"
From little things big things grow. It's often been said that the Velvet Underground had barely enough fans to fill the legendary New York cabaret, Max's Kansas City, yet anyone who heard them immediately started their own band. VU's fourth album, 1970's Loaded, sounds almost tepid compared to the sturm and drang of The Velvet Underground & Nico or White Light/White Heat, but it alone has been more of a catalyst for spawning millions of indie bands than those fabled epics.

After years spent toiling in the silvery shadow of Andy Warhol's Factory, Lou Reed abandoned any inhibitions about crafting bright, exuberant pop and let himself go on such audiogasms as "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll."

Some people, they like to go out dancing
And other peoples, they have to work, just watch me now!
And there's even some evil mothers
Well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
Y'know that, women, never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes, woo!
And that, y'know, children are the only ones who blush!
And that life is just to die!
"Sweet Jane" could put goosebumps on the most jaded of hipsters, Frank Zappa & the Mothers included (ok, maybe not Frank, but you get the idea). From Stanislaw Zagorski's cover art of a lurid, pink cloud wafting up from a subway, to the dizzy heights of Sterling Morrison's guitar solo on "Oh! Sweet Nuthin,'" Loaded traverses both heaven and hell in the flash of a New York minute.

With John Cale's screeching viola long gone, Loaded is stuffed with more melody and sugar than anything that preceded it. There are diversions into rodeos ("Lonesome Cowboy Bill"), Shelley Winters ("New Age") and mud wrestling growls ("Head Held High").

Apart from "Sweet Jane," "I Found A Reason" has always been a personal fave. An alternative take on doo-wop, the quaalude refrain is enough to slow any amphetamine-driven soul. When Lou begins speaking I'm still not sure whether to laugh or cry:
Honey, I found a reason to keep living
And you know the reason, dear it's you
And I've walked down life's lonely highways
Hand in hand with myself
And I realized how many paths have crossed between us
"Hand in hand with myself"? It's that sense of awe - awkward and raw - that lends Loaded the odd plumage it deserves. It was my very first introduction to Lou Reed and pointed me towards Patti Smith, the New York Dolls & the Ramones. And you know, my life was saved by rock & roll...

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