10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional
8.0-8.4: Strong
7.5-7.9: Very good
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible
Cover Art
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Velvet Underground
Loaded [Fully Loaded Edition]
[Atlantic; 1970; r: Rhino; 1997]
Rating: 10.0

One of the greatest albums of the 70s, the Velvet Underground's Loaded, has just been reissued in a special "Fully Loaded Edition" from Rhino Records. Now a two-disc set, it includes two versions of the album: one in its original form, with unedited versions of the songs; the other providing alternate takes, demos and underdeveloped versions. Both are packed with bonus tracks-- countless demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, and even a flashy new take on the original cover art. What a great thing this is!

Though the least essential of the Velvets' four classic recordings (The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground), due primarily to its obvious pandering to commercial radio, Lou Reed was a master songwriter, and though sometimes bogged down by ornate production work, some of the band's most notable work is contained here. "Sweet Jane", sadly more recognized as a Cowboy Junkies song since its appearance in Natural Born Killers, is a classic rock strut, a signal to Reed's solo work on Transformer, pulled off with the panache and verve only Lou Reed seemed able to perfect. "Rock & Roll", "I Found a Reason", "Cool It Down", "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'"-- what other bands have had a run of songs like that on their sellout record?

Unfortunately, though, Loaded didn't sell. And Lou Reed, brought down by negative reviews ("Where's 'The Murder Mystery?!'" "Doug Yule's a fucking idiot!") and grim record sales, abruptly walked out on the band, officially euthanizing their careers. It was no way for a band like this to go out, and I wouldn't be surprised if Reed regrets having ended on this note. Had he stuck around for one more record, and recorded his Transformer tracks with Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker, it might have given their last gasp more dignity.

But even Reed's closing the book on the Velvet Underground with a tantrum can't detract from their legacy of such essential, groundbreaking and revelatory music. And Loaded, recorded during the band's legendary stay at Max's Kansas City in the summer of 1970, is a part of that legacy. The rock may be straighter and lighter-hearted, and John Cale's see-sawing viola might be missed, but at the end of the day, you can't fuck with these songs. With this edition's sound quality so vastly improved over previous versions, and archiving, as it does, lots of old demos and some previously unreleased material that may not have otherwise ever seen the light of day, there's no excuse for not owning this album.

-Ryan Schreiber, April, 1997