on 3 November 2015
This is about the 5CD/1DVD-A - 45th Anniversary Edition.
The "live at Max's Kansas City" is still its underwhelming self, a poorly sounding bootleg, maybe a bit polished by the remastering. But it's an audiophile's dream compared to the "Second Fret" live disc. Consider that the bass and the vocals here are virtually inaudible: what you hear is the sound of two (badly recorded) guitars - no drummer on this set - strumming what might be the chords to Velvet Underground songs. Occasionally, you get the impression that someone is actually singing… far, far away in the background. Listening to the "Second Fret" disc made me realize that labels won't stop at nothing. If they have released this, they will go on releasing anything, no matter how wretched and pointless and useless.
On the other hand, the original album is beautifully remastered, and the “promotional mono” version is really engaging, possibly even better and punchier than the stereo one, a truly welcome addition.
The demos&extra tracks is equally great: these are actual studio recordings, excellent and brilliantly recorded, but most of them have already been released so if you own the 1997 “Fully Loaded” 2-CD edition you already have most of these.
There’s also an audio-only DVD with 5.1 mixes, which may be of great interest to many - not to me so I won’t comment on this.
The book is extremely well done and interesting, as customary for these VU super deluxe edition.
on 15 March 2013
Why such poor reviews? OK, it's not the best VU album, in fact it's my least favourite of their four released during (or just after, in this case) their lifetime, but it's still a classic, with such songs as Sweet Jane, New Age and Rock and Roll how can it not have 5 stars? Not all the songs are classics, but they're all good to listen to. The Fully Loaded edition has alternative versions of all the songs on the album (interesting, but not all of them good) plus demos of such songs as Ocean, Ride into the Sun, I Love You, Sad Song and Satellite of Love, never released at the time but later appearing on Lou Reed solo albums. It's great to hear the VU demos of these songs.
Although I've been listening to The Velvet Underground for at least 35 years, I've always had a less passionate relationship with the post-Cale lineup of the band; as much as I like the tunes on 'The Velvet Underground' and 'Loaded', I've always found that Cale is conspicuous by his absence from these two albums; the avant-garde edge he brought to the band is almost completely missing. But recently, on some semi-subconscious whim, the urge to rebuy 'The Velvet Underground' came upon me (an album I've already bought 4 times previously - original UK MGM vinyl with the toy soldiers sleeve, the original UK CD, the "closet mix" version in the 'Peel Slowly..' box set and a white vinyl version issued around 10-15 years ago). So when I purchased the 45th anniversary edition, took it home, stuck on the cans and spun it, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I absolutely loved every minute of it. This enjoyment at rediscovering a great record led me to rebuy 'White Light/White Heat' (again, I already have four versions) and strangely, I found I didn;t enjoy it as much. Perhaps I'm mellowing with age....so with that thought in mind, I decided it was time to revisit 'Loaded', which for me has always been the very weakest of the band's albums.
After digging out my original CD and listening to it, I realised how it has grown on me over the years. Moving on to the 'Fully Loaded' edition from some years ago, I enjoyed listening to all the alternate versions again, so decided to buy a japanese SHMCD of the 45th anniversary edition, as I didn't think I want to go for the superdeluxe box set...but it was no good, "Cool It Down" was starting to put as much of a hook in me as "Sweet Jane" always had, so I went for the superdeluxe; I had to hear the album in 5.1.
Unlike almost all of the reviewers here, I was primarily interested in the surround/hi def DVD-Audio disc above everything else in the box. Most of it I already owned on previous CD editions and with my original Atlantic LP and a red vinyl Cotillon reissue, I felt safe about most the content - but the siren call of surround did it, as I, unlike so many serious music fans (who for some reason disdain or are disinterested in advanced resolution formats - I can't believe none of them have home theater setups for DVD And Blu-Ray viewing) am very enthusiastic about surround versions of classic albums. When you've been listening to a record forever, it's great to hear it in a different way - so if you want to enjoy alternate takes, demos etc, why not try the 5.1 versions? It baffles me...
Anyway, this review is primarily about the DVD-A disc in the box set, as other reviewers have done a great job of covering the set as a whole here. I'd like to convince more buyers to give the DVDA some attention and I know surround enthusiasts will be interested, so here we go...
The menu screen that pops up on your TV/monitor when you load the disc is refreshingly silent - one thing I can't stand is surround discs that play a loop of some of the music from the album over a menu screen (the recent Pure Blu Ray Audio discs do this - I reviewed the one of 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' here a while ago, if you're interested). The lovely image of that cute, iconic cover design fills the plasma and you're ready to select audio options....
The first argument in the favor of the DVDA of 'Loaded' is that the versions of the song on the surround album are the longest ones to date, which to my way of thinking arguably sets a new standard for the 'definitive' take on the album - so serious fans will want to hear them. Secondly, the original release version we all know from the original vinyl issues and original CD is present here in 96/24, so for those of us who prefer "Sweet Jane" without the 'heavenly wine and roses' refrain (sorry, Lou!), a purist listening to the record in its primary release form is possible. Personally, had I complied the box set, I'd have ditched the second live disc and replaced it with a remaster of this 'original release version' on CD. But if you have a DVD player, you can now listen to a hi def rendering of this mighty fine original.
There are two surround options: DTS 5.1 and 5.1 Dolby Digital. When presented with such a choice, I invariably plump for DTS, as it is punchier, louder and more dynamic (when I first discovered DTS on DVD films, I started buying imports above UK releases if the latter had no DTS option). However, DTS is not to everyone's taste and can be overbearing. I'll cover the Dolby Digital later...
On "Who Loves The Sun", Doug's vocals and the bass drum are seriously over-emphasised at the expense of the guitars and the number loses its fleet, sunny, light quality - an inauspicious start for the DTS rendering.I'll say immediately that the DD 5.1 rendering is much more pleasant, but the reality is that this lovely single isn't as sparkly in separated form as we'd all thought, so in future I'll be sticking to stereo options as definitive, despite the fact that this longer version has a full coda rather than just a fade-out.
"Sweet Jane", however, is a different beast, the wonderful spiraling and criss-crossing guitars of the intro sounding just great across five speakers.
The limitations of the source tape are not entirely absent - the noise at the start of "Who Loves the Sun" is still painfully present and there is noticeable distortion in the left rear speaker on one of the guitar licks during early minutes of "Rock and Roll" - but this is absent in the DD version. The guitar solo is isolated rather than panning, while the smooth melodies of the guitar lick bridge are lovely and there is at least one major guitar line I've not noticed before in both surround versions.The breakdown that comes before the "it was alright." refrain is beautifully handled, with great instrument separation between the speakers.
Digressing just a moment, it is clear here that 'Loaded' was a much more studio assembled recording (given its vintage) than other albums released in 5.1 that sound superior in terms of room ambience and smoothness - in 5.1 mixes of work by The Doors and Miles Davis, there is much greater clarity, warmth and immediacy, but 'Loaded', being a drier, reverb-free production (that like its predecessors did so much to inspire the indie sound of the 80s) feels much more like a studio construct than say 'LA Woman' or 'Kind of Blue' in 5.1. So if you're expecting to feel as if you are in the room with the band, forget it.
"Cool It Down" raises the bar for the surround mix, despite an initial feeling that the guitar was overly prominent above the vocals and snare. The piano solo is spread subtly between left front and left rear speakers and it is on this cut that the surround work on the album really starts to shine. There's a superb, previously unheard extended fadeout - 49 seconds longer than other versions and for me, this is now the definitive version of this underrated song.
The attention shown to speaker separation is also noticeable in "New Age" - many surround albums tend to use the rear speakers mostly for ambience before suddenly projecting a panning guitar or keyboard lick. The mix engineer here avoids the more obvious around-the-set panning beloved of psychedelia (something I love in 5.1 when it's done well, but it wouldn't work for the VU, them being Punk Rockers) but instead settles for more balanced spread of sound between front and rear speakers. Doug's vocal is much better managed here than on "Who Loves The Sun", a nice pan on the backing vocals at one point from rear right to front right and yes, this is a longer version. It's worth remembering that both Lou and Doug's voices are harsher and 'untutored' compared to pure, clear-toned singers like The Byrds, so at high levels they can sound rough, but hey, this is the VU after all!
Bass is a little intrusive at the start of "Lonesome Cowboy Bill", but it soon settles down. The claim that this is about William S Burroughs doesn't stand up for me - well, it may be dedicated to him, but there's nothing in the lyrics (even as metaphor) that seems to confirm that the song is about him (at this point, he hadn't written his SF Western 'The Place of Dead Roads'). The piano rattles along nicely in the left rear speaker, the acoustic guitar in the right rear, a setting the engiener uses on a number of tracks.
On the surround versions "I found a reason' and 'Head Held High' are up next, as apparently they were originally meant to be segued on the album. They're not crossfaded here (i.e. they don't overlap) but there is a drumbeat I don;t recall at the start of "Head Held High". "I found a Reason" of course is reminiscent in feel of Reed's early versions of songs that later appeared on 'Transformer' and the doo-wop vocals are spread nicely across the speakers. In "Head Held High" the handclaps leap out of the rear speakers as do the maracas and the tremolo guitar burst and lead lines are joyfully employed too.
"Train Round the Bend" is over a minute longer and one of the guitar figures bounces and grates gloriously on the intro in the left rear, subtly shifting to the front right, then around the other speakers seamlessly as the song chugs along - great stuff. There's not a huge amount to say about "Oh Sweet Nothing", for me one of the least characteristic tracks the band ever laid down - to me, it sounds like the Flying Burrito Brothers on 'Burrito Deluxe', their disappointing and underproduced second album.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 isn't so loud as the DTS and many will prefer it. It is smoother, less separated and the vocals seem less harsh. "Who Loves The Sun" is less dominated by the vocals and bass drum and overall, the song plods less, but I'll say again this is a number that works better in stereo. "Sweet Jane" has a better guitar/vocal balance here and is noticeably more laid back. Overall, the DD might be a more purist choice for listening to this familiar record in surround.
Finally, the 'Dolby Downmix' takes the 5.1 version and mixes it to stereo, so you get the long versions in two-channel. It's a lot quieter than the original stereo and personally, I'd stick with the latter.
To sum up: no-one who is interested in 'Loaded' will want to miss the surround versions. Audiophiles may be disappointed, but then again, this was the band who often recorded with all the needles in the red.
on 30 October 2015
Much as it pains me, I can only give this edition of Loaded four stars. The book is lovely, in line with the books for the other three albums. But instead of having the track listing on the back of the book there's a sheet of paper stuck to it. I immediately removed the paper to protect it, but it's just that little bit too big to go inside the book and will have to be folded. Kinda irritating when this is supposed to be the "last word" definitive edition of Loaded.
There's very little here that most Velvets fans won't have heard: for me the only "new" music is on disc 2: the mono promo version of the album and the two singles (one unreleased), but all four tracks are from Loaded. On the plus side, it does contain Sweet Jane as originally released, the version that Lou hated.
I much preferred the Fully Loaded approach to the album, the second disc reconstructing the album, but using alternate versions and demos. Here we have session out-takes, demos, early versions and alternate mixes presented in groups at the end of disc one and taking up all of disc 3.
Loaded of course belongs with Live at Max's Kansas City, but in squeezing Max's onto one disc, Who Loves the Sun and the second version of Sweet Jane have been dropped along with the little radio promo that was on the two disc version of Max's as an historical curio. What grates here is that the dropped tracks could have filled up some spare space on the first disc which is less than an hour long.
The second best-known bootleg from this period appears here as disc 5, Live at Second Fret. The bootleg has been well circulated and I would imagine anyone willing to pay out for this set will also have got hold of a copy of the bootleg. However, it's been through a studio cleanup, so the sound is improved a little. I have to admit that it's not the most energising recording I've ever heard and I'd imagine its presence here is more to fill the role of providing a bootleg in the package same as the other three albums, forgetting that Max's itself started life as a bootleg recording.
Disk 6 is an audio only DVD offering four mixes of the album, with dreadful graphics based on the cover of Loaded. The graphics have a nasty grainy look to them and are not improved by the clashing magenta of the selection bar. Apparently at one point I Found a Reason and Head Held High were going to be segued together, so on a couple of mixes these tracks are reversed in the running order to account for the segue, which really just amounts to a lack of silence between the two tracks. To me, the DVD is a waste: despite the remastering and the surround sound mix I can hear the "dust" of a 45 year old recording that bit more clearly. I'm afraid the audiophile content is wasted on me, and I suspect is only there to push up the price.
I love Loaded as I love pretty much every VU recording I've heard (and I've probably heard more than my fair share of bootlegs). This is a beautiful package let down by the record company over-extending themselves with the DVD, and missing tracks out from Max's even though there's still room for them on another disc. Finally, don't be fooled by the autorip: unlike the other albums where the entire set is presented as mp3 files, what you get here is "the American version", which is just the ten tracks of the original album, I would presume from the Fully Loaded version of the album. I'm afraid both the record company and Amazon have let themselves down with this one, which is why I'm regretfully only giving the package 4 stars.
on 3 March 2004
If you love the Velvets you'll love Loaded, their last proper album - and including the timeless classics Sweet Jane, New Age, Rock 'n' Roll... Well, this is a double CD with not only the proper versions of those songs, with the bits the studio cut out for the original release, but also alternate versions of the whole album, some excellent demos, all fascinatingly different from the final release, and some rare items, like early velvets versions of songs Lou Reed later released on his solo albums. The alternate versions and demos are all great, especially if you know the album, and there are some surprising tracks. Overall , there's not a bad song, and the influence this band had on UK indie culture is plain to see. Well worth the money.
Don't believe those who say this was the end of the VU, lacking JOhn Cale's sonic innovations. The absence of JOhn set Lou free to write some classic songs (cf. 3rd VU album also) - and I'd rate the three mentioned above alongside any others from the VU/Lou cannon.
on 30 July 2015
Chances are that if you are looking to buy Loaded by The Velvet Undergroud you have followed a similar path to me, that is bought the greatly acclaimed The Velvet Underground And Nico, then taken a pick out of White Light/White Heat and The Velvet Underground (I bought the latter first), then gone on to buy the other of the first three Velvet Underground (in my case White Light/White Heat) and are at the stage I was... WHAT THE **** NOW!
So upon hearing The Velvet Underground And Nico you experience many experimental concepts that you have probably never heard before (like the entirety of Heroin) but are strangely drawn to love the album even if it can be a tough listen the first time round. Because you loved it so much you do a little research into the group and you discover the other albums available (White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground, Loaded and Squeeze), if purchased in this order or unlike me had the pleasure of being alive during the 60's you heard White Light/White Heat which again comes as a shock to the ears, again you are drawn to the weirdness of the noise and go on to hear The Velvet Underground, which again shocks you, but not for its strange sounds but it's brilliance in being everything you least expect from the group. This leaves a dilemma, do I skip this and move on to Lou Reed (after all he hated Loaded so much he left the band) or do I just go for it, personally I would say GO FOR IT!
Loaded came about when Lou Reed was told by the new record company to forget weirdness, shock value and drugs and simply make an album Loaded with hits. Which is what this album is, a very strong album that sounds more commercial that The Beach Boys. If you was wondering wether the album is worth buying simply over quality then definitely, The Velvet Underground have never sounded so polished, but if you want The Velvet sound from the first three albums then you better run run run run run... (forgive me). For me this just provided the swan song that the group needed, something radios would love that also proved the group could make an album that was more than just noise, even if it's not their greatest achievement it is just as forfilling as the rest of their back catalogue.
I personally recommend you check out some Live Velvets after this album or VU, alternatively you could move on to Lou Reeds solo work (Transformer is a good starting point) or if your very brave try Squeeze (but you may hate yourself for doing so).