Twilight of The Velvet Underground


The Velvet Underground
Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition
Rhino

The Complete Matrix Tapes
Polydor/UMe

Loaded was the most conventional of The Velvet Underground’s four studio outings. With gifted multi-instrumentalist John Cale long gone and drummer Maureen Tucker largely absent from the studio, Lou Reed steered the band away from the notorious sonic and emotional extremes of its early work, trying out a more mainstream pop approach, albeit with more wit and a darker undertone than your basic Top 40 song. The album features a few clunkers but also two of his most-lovable compositions in the form of “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll.” After the confrontational brilliance of early songs like “Heroin” and “Sister Ray,” these engaging anthems seem positively carefree.

This six-disc package includes a mono version, a surround-sound mix, a previously released live set from Max’s Kansas City, and a very lo-fi, previously unreleased live performance from Philadelphia. The high point is the disc containing demos and early versions, which offers hints of what Reed would have sounded like as a folk singer in an alternate universe, and shows him getting warmed up for his impending solo career. “Satellite of Love” would be one of the standouts of Transformer, his second post-Velvets effort and biggest commercial success, while “Sad Song” resurfaced on his third long-player, the harrowing masterpiece Berlin.

Prior to the sessions that produced Loaded, the Velvets played a series of shows at the San Francisco club the Matrix in November and December 1969. Four of those sets appear on The Complete Matrix Tapes and portray the quartet as a cohesive and efficient rock’n’roll band, not simply a vehicle for Reed’s solo aspirations. With Doug Yule taking over on bass and psychedelic keyboards, the group ranges from early gems like “I’m Waiting for the Man,” presented in a bluesy 13-minute version, and “Sister Ray,” which unfolds over 37 mesmerizing minutes, to the not-yet-recorded “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll,” heard here in looser, funkier incarnations. Much of the material on this fine four-disc collection has previously been released piecemeal on other archival packages, but The Complete Matrix Tapes is the best way to get a feel for the later Velvet Underground onstage, no longer revolutionary but still compelling.

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