The final Velvet Underground album to feature Lou Reed, the title Loaded refers to Atlantic’s request that the band produce an album “loaded with hits.” While it’s hardly surprising that the album failed to meet this request given the band’s previous track record, it’s a valiant attempt nonetheless; even more than the previous record, it’s accessible and song-based. The shift in Lou Reed’s vocal style is marked; instead of his previous disengaged drawl, he’s often using a macho swagger, while the sweeter voiced Doug Yule fronts about half of the songs. With Tucker pregnant and largely absent from the sessions, Morrison and Reed are the only original members left, and Yule assumes a much more central role.
I don’t mind the more commercial sound, but there are also surprisingly sappy and half-baked songs, like the monologue in ‘I Found A Reason’, that are absent from the band’s other records. This is enough to make Loaded my least favourite of the four original Velvet Underground albums, but Reed’s still writing enough great songs to make it a worthy entry into the Velvet’s canon. Chief among these is the instantly catchy ‘Sweet Jane’, driven by a simple and distinctive rhythm guitar riff, while it’s arguably possible to trace back The Modern Lovers’ classic debut album back to ‘Rock & Roll’. There are also a couple more solid songs; the closing ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin” is a pleasant, melodic ballad that justifies its seven minute running time, while ‘New Age’ is another pretty winner. Beyond the highlights though, it’s hard to get excited about the rest of the record; the opening ‘Who Loves The Sun’ is a nice mid-sixties style pop song, but it’s out of place on a 1970 Velvet Underground record, while songs like ‘Cool It Down’ and ‘Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ are largely forgettable.
Loaded isn’t a bad swansong for a pivotal band in rock’s history, but at the same time it’s hardly representative of their oeuvre and not a good place to start in their discography – it feels more like a Lou Reed solo album than a Velvet Underground album.