Almost half a century since its inception, Loaded still feels like an outlier. It’s an anomaly even for the Velvet Underground themselves, not least of all because it’s lacking half of the group’s original line-up, and is largely dominated by the singing and playing of then twenty three year old Doug Yule. On paper, it appears to be the band’s most commercial release – it contains the hits Sweet Jane, and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ arguably the songs for which the group would become best known – and yet it is distinctly and thrillingly odd. It’s a mishmash of styles, tones and attitudes that comes to feel like a true work of art, not despite its contradictions, but because of them.
Album opener Who Loves The Sun is perhaps the most quintessentially Velvet Underground song on Loaded. Mixing up the tender with the twee, it shows off the distinctive sound that would later pave the way for Calvin Johnson and his K Records cronies. But it’s the exception rather than the rule, and the rest of the record is full of sun-blasted beauties, tracks like Rock & Roll and Train Around The Bend that wear the skin of polished pop rock but cannot hide the distinctly off-kilter sensibilities that hide beneath.
All the tracks have been remastered for this, Loaded’s forty fifth birthday, and with enough care and precision that the re-release never feels like a lazy cash grab. It’s a perfect example of what a reissue should be; less a cold-hearted attempt to wrangle some more cash from Velvet Underground fans, and more a staggering tribute to a timeless album. The requisite bonus tracks have been stapled onto the tail end of the record – bonus tracks like the demo version of I Love You that will be familiar to anyone who owns 1997’s Fully Loaded – but the real star of the show here is Loaded itself, polished to perfection.
After all these years the record is still bloated in the best possible way; a deliberately excessive experience that sits the slow-motion sweetness of I’ve Found A Reason next to the jangly brilliance of Lonesome Cowboy Bill. It is an album like so few others; spirited, silly, sensual and sincere. Indeed, it’s so genuinely ground-breaking – so truly unique – that even when placed next to its horde of imitators; even half a century after its release; even given the catastrophic break-up of the group awaiting on the horizon; it still soars.