Sunday, July 8, 2012

194 Transformer. Lou's greatest hits.



Album: Transformer
Artist: Lou Reed
Genre: Rock
Year: 1972

Tracks

  1. Vicious
  2. Andy's Chest
  3. Perfect Day
  4. Hangin' 'Round
  5. Walk on the Wild Side
  6. Make Up
  7. Satellite of Love
  8. Wagon Wheel
  9. New York Telephone Conversation
  10. I'm So Free
  11. Goodnight Ladies

If you ask someone to name the best song Lou Reed recorded as a solo artist then it's a fair bet they will immediately name Walk On The Wild Side (and follow it up with a joyous doo doo-doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo etc). Ask for another Lou Reed hit and they'll probably provide either Vicious, Perfect Day or Satellite of Love all of which are great songs, and all of which appear on Transformer.

The Velvet Underground were a dismal failure, at least by commercial standards. Their much vaunted first album peaked at 171 on the album charts and their entire career was met with critical and public apathy and in some cases outright derision. Lou Reed's first solo album after leaving the band (who had all left him by that stage) was made up of VU offcuts and rejected songs he re-recorded on his own terms. It flapped around lifelessly at the bottom of the top 200 and failed to make any impression at all.

Things needed to change for solo album number 2 so Lou cranked up his hitwriting abilities, joined forces with David Bowie and Mick Ronsen and came up with four classic songs to base an album around.

Perfect Day is a beautiful and gentle song with Lou's vocals wrapped around a simple piano with some strings lingering in the background only to ramp up in the chorus when Lou turns on the echo effect, breathes deep and hits his words with a lot more voice. A lot of people have read a lot into the lines "You're going to reap just what you sow" which they take as implying that there is something sinister about the otherwise idyllic relationship Reed portrays but surely reaping works both ways? If you sow good things can't you reap them too? Call me a sad old romantic but I like to think Perfect Day has no dark undertones...

...unlike Vicious. Vicious lives up to it's name. The guitars are vicious, the vocals are vicious and the lyrics are vicious: "When I see you walking down the street, I step on your hands and mangle your feet" It's one of Rock's greatest bitter songs from a guy who did bitter extremely well.

Walk on the wild side is slinky catchy and groovy. It has one of the most recognizable basslines in music, a great sax solo, the most notorious reference to oral sex and catchy backing vocals supplied by a group called The Thunder Thighs (seriously).

Satellite of Love received a boost when U2 covered it live on their Zooropa tour but it never needed Bono's stamp of approval even if it benefited from his slightly slower arrangement. It's a very catchy number although nobody has ever explained to me why Lou's vocals are so low in the mix. Bowie can clearly be heard having a lovely time with the "Bom Bom Bom" backing vocals which gives it an extra element of charm.

The rest of the tracks don't live up to the four highlights. Hangin Around is a great rock number and New York Conversation is a tedious piece of filler while the others are all fine in their own way but nothing special, not that they need to be. Transformer is a brilliant listen thanks to four magnificent tracks which showcase Reed's huge talent.

Highlight: Vicious
Lowlight: New York Telephone Conversation

Influenced by: Ornette Coleman
Influenced: David Bowie

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: "TRANSFORMER is one of Lou Reed's best recordings if not the best. Knowing for whom it is written is why it is so great. Special songs for special ladies."

-Shame he never thought to tell us for whom it was written.

So did this transform you or not? Let me know below.


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