Lou Reed – Transformer

Well, it’s been one of the longest 3-day weeks of my life so far hopefully this is a bright spot:Today’s record is Transformer by Lou Reed.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformer_%28album%29And here’s the track list.  It’s the same as the original album, but if you’re well and truly curious I noticed, what looked like, 2 extended edition releases:



Lou Reed – Transformer: 2.5 stars

Precon: I have a convoluted history with Lou Reed. For a long time I only knew him as the guy who sang the original version of that Marky Mark song. I think Marky’s version omitted the “colored girls” line. I also knew of Velvet Underground and their massive reputation (how’s the saying go, only 5,000 people bought their album but every one of those people started a band), but I didn’t know that’s where he was from. And then I also knew him as the chain smoking guy with bad 80’s hair who loves New York from the movie Blue in the Face, I just didn’t know that was the same guy who sang the Marky Mark song. Eventually, I had my Lou Reed revelation which happened all at once and went something like, “Wait, that guy is Lou Reed, and Lou Reed was in the Velvet Underground?! Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Despite my surprise, I never investigated Lou or the Underground any further. I think Walk on the Wild Side is still the only song of his I know. From this album, I expect some downbeat musical stylings and ruminative lyrics.

Favorite Track: Perfect Day
Least Favorite: Vicious

Oh yeah, this is what he sounds like on the last Gorillaz album. Forgot he was on there. He sings like a guy off the street who didn’t really want to record an album today.
SNL has ruined all cowbell songs. Maybe “Vicious” doesn’t really count though. It sounds more like a tin can.
He actually kind of sings on Perfect Day. The subdued verses contrast nicely with the swells of the chorus.
Satellite of Love seems Bowie-y.
Oh no wait, I know what he sounds like. It’s like when they try to make an album with Freddy Krueger or ALF just to cash in on the popularity of the characters. So imagine Lou Reed never made a record before this but was in a popular tv show where he played an old curmudgeon who spoke with no emotion in his voice. This is the cash in album.
I can see the influence this might have had on a lot of bands I like, but it’s not really clicking with me. I give him credit for the distinct vocals and minus points for the times when distinct turns into boring.

Methaqualone wiki:
In 1972 it was the sixth-bestselling sedative in the USA, where it was legal under
the brand name Quaalude

Transformer wiki:
Released November 8, 1972



Lou Reed-Transformer

Preconceptions: To be honest, I’m slightly nervous, mostly because I’m pretty certain I’m not nearly cool enough to listen to Lou Reed. I only brood on Tuesdays and I do tend to have an affinity for pop culture.  I’m also slightly worried because I feel like a lot of what I know of Lou Reed has to do with feedback.  I’m worried that this could sound a lot like one long sound check gone wrong, with little to no melody to save it.  But I’m prepared to brave it anyway.

After Listening: Oh my gosh that was so much better than I was anticipating.  Now, I’m not certain if it was good because of its actual musical contribution, or if it’s because I was really prepared for something kind of horrifying, and so, the natural reaction is that if your expectations are lowered, the result is usually far more positive than it would have been with no expectations.  Most of the melodies are really beautiful and timeless.  Despite knowing that it was released in the 70s, I feel like none of the tracks are trapped by the production pitfalls of the time.  Each track stands out on its own, with no real overall feel pervading the album, and yet, it’s so easy to listen to.  To go from the hauntingly beautiful “Perfect Day” which has a luxurious, orchestral feel to the sparse “Hangin’ Round” which almost sounds like a demo is kind of a bold choice, no?  I’ve heard “Walk On The Wild Side” a ton, and I’m not sure why that isn’t my initial association with Mr. Reed, but it’s one of those songs that kind of surprises me in its popularity because despite the bass line that could lull anyone into submission and the Motown-esque “doo doo”  chorus, there’s something dark and cutting underneath.  His voice is much gentler than I thought it would be as well.  I’m not sure it’s necessarily distinctive, but it’s not offensive, despite the off-key tilt that happens sometimes.  There’s an undeniable comparison between “Satellite of Love” and David Bowie…and I just read the Wikipedia, where that’s explained by the fact that Bowie and Mick Ronson produced the album, so now I don’t feel so observant, just fairly obvious.  I like that he ends with a track called “Good Night Ladies”.  I find it comforting when albums are wrapped up in a definitive manner.  There’s something about that track that sounds like something that Tom Waits would do too.  This track seems like it could also fit in perfectly with the era of the Serge Gainsbourg album, it’s jazzy and sauntering.

Favorite Tracks: Perfect Day/Goodnight Ladies
Least Favorite Tracks: If I have to pick, “I’m so Free”, but there’s still something there that grabs me

Overall: 4.5
I’ll definitely listen to this again, now that I know how palatable it is.


Preconceived Notions: Lou Reed is an enigma to me, I guess maybe he is to most…outside of a few songs here and there, he’s pretty much passed right through my awareness of musical landscape without disrupting anything. I never really got into the Velvet Underground, and of his solo career-I’ve heard maybe 2 songs.  I know he’s very very well respected by Jon Zorn and most of the underground free improve NYC scene.  I know he’s coming out with an album with Metallica….he’s probably the most well respected musician that I‘ve never bother to even check out.  And so this pick is pretty much as near 100% curiosity as you can have from my end.

After Listening:  It’s funny how Reed has this signature vocal delivery that is half speech/half song and yet it’s still surprisingly smooth.  Maybe it’s a result of the multi-voiced choruses that help with the tonality, maybe it’s because although somewhat similar (at times) to Dylan, he doesn’t make everything sound like a question.  That said, it is a little frustrating not to hear him actually sing a little more on this, b/c when he does you can tell his voice is very unique and could’ve been signature even without the talking delivery aspects.  For 1972 the album pushes itself musically, we get ballads replete with strings and piano, we get stripped down rock with shuffling guitar,  and we get some over the top glam rock style arrangements.  The endearing thing to me though is that it all sounds like a gritty Lou Reed – he never sounds like he’s adapting to the song structure, it just sounds like he’s a battered story teller in all settings.   There are times when this album sort of wanders into a weird marching band or polka rhythms…it’s at these moments – noticeable on tracks like “Good Night Ladies” (which I guess was going for a burlesque vibe) where some of the tracks just get bogged down into almost a strict monotone adherence to the beats, and the album looses some of its power.

Favorite Tracks – “Walk on the Wild Side” – This one was a hit for a reason…pure atmospheric rock.  They paint the NY streets in a multitude of colors, and you feel like you’re just there peeking in.  There are some nice light touches on the thing that keep it focused – the chorus which Reed plays with (and the colored girls sing), and then the outro sax solo which provides a sort of smooth “disappearing into the night” ending quality.
“Satellite of Love” – Sounds like a little like a sequel to Walk on the Wild side, and you can hear the Bowie/glam influence on here to be sure.  But the backing vocal sections are excellent…a lush soundscape…perhaps the most different in mood song for the whole album.

Least Favorite Tracks – “New York telephone Conversation”   – I’m just happy this wasn’t indicative of the primary direction of the album.  Sounds like a local musical theatre number despite Bowie’s vocal presence.
“Good Night Ladies” – As I mentioned above the monotony of this one just sort of gets to you.  I get where Lou was going with this, but unlike most of the tracks on this album this one feels a touch un-genuine.  The atmosphere on Walk comes from a collaboration of different elements that create their scene, on this one though the scene is created through stereotyped rhythms and feels much more shallow and artificial.

Overall: 3.9  Because of some essentially dull moments on this, those that linger too long in slight rhythmic stagnation…I can’t fully get behind this album.  However, it sounds like a great beginning to me discovering more of Reed.  I was surprised a little to hear the glam influences on this, and surprised further that I enjoyed some of them.  Reed sounds like a storyteller I could back and even more – could believe.  Musically from horns, to electric guitar, to piano, to strings, there’s a lot to take in-even in the simple formatted songs.  This one will get re-listens from me, and I am eager to check out both Berlin and Metal now, which theoretically should showcase two extremes of Mr Reed’s musical endeavors.

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Record Club began in the cold, dank, snowmageddon scene that was New England of January 2011. We’re probably no different than you. We all work in cubicles, some in smaller, less private cubicles than others; that just means we have to be even sneakier about how we listen to our music. But we have to listen to our music, mostly as a way of saving our own personal sanity. Sometimes our opinions lead us to debates that may or may not be published in their entirety on this site, but I can promise you’ll at least get a glimpse of the way our minds work. The main goal is to find new music we like or find old music that we didn’t know we liked. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes it’s a total and complete disaster. After our ears have rejoiced or stopped bleeding we try something else. This is our pattern, every Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, when the club isn’t officially in session, just to keep everyone on their toes, we throw in a theme day. We’re beginning to run low on our original list, so please, if you have albums that you’d like us to review or themes that you’d like to see our playlist of, feel free to contribute. After all, we’re all in this together once we punch the time clock. So if you’re busy (or just plain bored) lurking in your cubicle as you read this join in. After all, life wasn’t meant to be lived staring at a computer screen. I guarantee you, it’s at least more fun when you plug the headphones in.

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