Lou Reed - Transformer
This is an album which, within a few years of its release, justifiably came to be regarded as a classic. Perhaps it is one of the apogees of the glam rock era of the early seventies, along with The Rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The combination of sounds put Lou Reed along with David Bowie and Iggy Pop as influences on a generation of musicians. It also marked a turning point in direction of pop music. I recall seeing, around the time this came out, an American magazine article which cited Reed, Bowie and Iggy as a triple threat to rock . What sort of threat they posed and to whom I never delved into, but suffice it to say I paid little attention beyond the title.
In "Walk on the Wild Side" Lou Reed found himself with a surprising singles hit on both sides of the Atlantic, though it has to be said that I doubt a whole load of the people who heard it ever truly understood what it was all about and certainly the reference to giving head was never picked up by the BBC or it would have been slapped with a ban. The mythology surrounding the album continued with the artwork and it was long rumoured that the two people featured on the back cover - a girl in a snazzy skirt and a man with an unfeasibly large bulge in his trousers - were both in fact Lou Reed in costume. They were not (and the unfeasibly large bulge was later admitted to be a banana).
The tracks on Transformer were certainly off-beat enough to make you sit up and listen. "Perfect Day", "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Satellite of Love" are the stand out tracks and probably the most famous as well. Most of the others bear closer listening to - almost. However, there are some real pieces of dross in here. I can't stand "New York Telephone Conversation" as an example. Skits really have no place on an album of music. Having said that, at the time that may have seemed a good idea.
This album was all about a place and a time, and the ultimate shallowness and transience of that situation. This was an album about and for New York in the early 1970's. The scenarios the songs describe and the characters that populate them are all drawn from Reed's knowledge of the New York alternative scene in the late sixties and early seventies, a scene with which he was supremely familiar. It was a world of hard drugs and cheap sex; of weirdos and misfits; of artists and piss-artists. I guess if you were part of that scene, even peripherally, this album may seem like an old friend.
Why then do I give this such a comparatively low rating? Perhaps it is because I was then and remain now far removed from the scene about which Reed sings. Well, in truth, the style and the era of the early 1970's as far as I was concerned was rock music. Glam and Camp, which this is in places, was too much associated with the charts and the mainstream - and let's face it, look at the British charts of the era and see the utter shite which populated them. As a consequence, listening to this album now dates it instantly as a product of its time. It does not translate well to the present era and seems to me to represent a phase music went through on the way to growing up. There are times when I enjoy it, but for most occasions I regard it as a curiosity of a bygone age.
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on 2011-04-04 CharlesMartel Said:
Recently reissued with added bonus tracks. These add little as many are offcuts and demos, but interesting nonetheless.