Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No. 194: Transformer

Band: Lou Reed
Album: Transformer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Lou Reed's second post-Velvets album is a wonderful extension of "Loaded" in its simplicity. Reed didn't push any musical boundaries on "Transformer," though, lyrically, he continued to explore the seedier side of humanity.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Musically, the record is strikingly similar to "Loaded," so I'm not totally clear as to why it needs to be on the list.
Best song: "Satellite of Love" and "Perfect Day" are both pretty great.
Worst song: People like "New York Telephone Conversation," though I'm not clear why.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it has its moments.

"Transformer" reaks of David Bowie. Bowie and Mick Ronson produced the record, Bowie sings backup on the record, the sax solo on "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" was played by Bowie's sax teacher and Reed appears on the cover of the record in thick eye shadow.

"Transformer" is, in effect, a glam rock record. While that term isn't really indicative of the sound of the record -- anything from the blues stomp of T. Rex to the disco beats of Roxy Music is considered glam -- it does start the transform of American style. Androgyny was becoming the norm and in the '80s, it would become mainstream.

The music isn't anything too exciting. "I'm So Free" is Ziggy-knockoff while "Goodnight Ladies" and "New York Telephone Conversation" are basically just Vaudeville numbers. "Andy's Chest" is some sort of insider Warhol thing while "Vicious" was inspired by Warhol himself. Neither is anything more than a standard rock song.

Nevertheless, "Transformer" has some of Reed's best post-VU work. "Perfect Day" is a beautiful ballad on par with the Velvets' work. "Satellite Of Love" has Bowie's voice deployed well towards the end. "Walk On The Wild Side," the first real chart song about drugs and cross-dressing, features some of Reed's most inventive lyrics.

It's Reed's best solo work (that Pitchfork review never really tells us why it's great, by the way), but that's more like damning "Transformer" with faint praise.

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