Rock poets. punk poets. There have been greats to share their verses with screeching guitars and pounding drums that echo their stanzas. Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, and many others strung together clever songs with poetic words. However, Lou Reed’s frequent philosophical verse, deadpan voice, ostrich guitar, and the backing of The Velvet Underground project the very essence of a DIY rock’n’roll band: a cavalier attitude and the occasional pop twist.
The Velvet Underground didn’t make much money, and didn’t really step into the mainstream while they were together, but today they are looked back on as some of the most influential musicians of their era. The one and only iconic pop artist Andy Warhol briefly managed them, and caught their talent the second he heard a quick riff. Also, their first four albums made it into the Rolling Stone 500 greatest albums of all time list. You know U2? or David Bowie? Reed and the protopunk musicians shaped the attitude of these artists and literally thousands of other bands.
The first track on Loaded, “Who Loves the Sun,” is a bouncy tune regarding broken romance with catchy lyrics and playful melodies. It’ll likely make you hum along, and possibly spread your dimples as it depicts heartbreak alongside bright instrumentals and vocals.
The next song, “Sweet Jane,” is perhaps the peak of this album. It starts off with an electric guitar-based artful melody, and then breaks into the story of Jack the banker, and his lover, Jane the clerk. Its lyrics describe how times are changing, with words such as “all the poets studied rules of verse/And those ladies they rolled their eyes.” They play on the idea of how society is becoming less conservative, referencing how poets used to follow a strict traditional format, but modern free-verse construct threw that rule book out the window. However, “Sweet Jane” has a bit of an awkward ending which is disappointing, for it takes away from such a brilliant song.
The Velvets’ rock’n’roll vignette, “Rock and Roll,” tells the tale of Jenny and the discovery of a New York City radio station saved her life. It’s the epitome of NYC rock’n’roll in 4 minutes and 40 seconds of Reed’s authentic, almost impassive voice, and the band’s spirited jamming. The idea of simply forgetting everything, and going out to dance to some rock music has always been a part of the group’s persona and message. It comes out clearly in this song, and pretty much wraps up the whole idea of Loaded.
“Cool it Down,” the following song, is relaxed and will probably “cool you down,” as it goes through its course. “New Age,” starts of with the slightly odd words “Can I have your autograph/He said to the fat blond actress.” It’s a monologue of unrequited love, presented in a unique, gripping, and hopeless way. The narrator’s forlorn romantic aspirations in pursuit of a celebrity could grab your attention almost anywhere. Reed’s character’s obsession with a movie star is illustrated with “You know I’ve seen every movie you’ve been in/From paths of pain to jewels of glory.” This song could depress a six year old in a bouncy castle, and may even put The Smiths to shame.
“Head Held High” is the next track, and it yearns to be played at full volume. It’s easy to picture a 1970s Long Island rock band rushing down interstate 495 to New York, radio blaring, swaggering in search of stardom on a hot summer day with this tune in the backdrop. “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” should satisfy blues fans, and helps highlight the band’s ability to produce a diverse range of sound.
“I Found A Reason,” starts with doo-wop influenced harmonies between Reed and bassist/vocalist Doug Yule in F major. Reed comes in with melodic vocals bringing an interesting, but impressive sound. The album ends with “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,” and it’s about people who have nothing at all, presented in rock’n’roll fashion. The stories of disaffected everyday people make it appear as though dreams have become nothing but dust on the window sill. For instance, Reed’s creation “Joanna Love” falls in love every night, and “every night she falls when she does.” However, toward the end, a drum-centered instrumental part changes its course, and brings a glimpse of hope over the horizon. This hymn to the dissatisfied is a perfect end to the Velvets’ last real piece of work.
Loaded doesn’t beat some of the group’s other work such as The Velvet Underground & Nico, but it shows their less experimental commercial hit attempts. If you’re looking to free your mind of troubles, and listen to some iconic rock, this album is for you. In the story of Ginny and her newfound love of NYC rock, Reed says “despite all the computations/You know, you could just dance to the rock’n’roll station,” and that’s what this album’s all about.