Vinyl Vlog 593

Vinyl Vlog 593

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Wednesday, 15 February 2023
COLUMN

Lou Reed
Transformer (RSD 50th Anniversary)

Lou Reed is a hard man to pin down. He’s simply unknowable. Either because he wanted it that way, or because he himself wasn’t quite sure of who he was. He’s been analyzed and idolized endlessly as a messiah or a junkie or a misunderstood genius. The reality is that he was all of those things to some degree, but it’s probably also true that he didn’t care. He was just interested in living his life. And his life was making music. And think about what 1972 meant for Lou Reed. He quit the Velvet Underground and pursued a solo career and his first solo album was a flop. By now, he was a wild card to say the least.

Of course Reed’s time with the Velvet Underground is what gets the most attention and that material will always get revisited and explored and analyzed and picked apart with different mixes, demos, live performances and alternative takes. The well will never run dry. But it’s probably Reed’s solo career that is most interesting to those who want to understand him as a songwriter and person. With the Velvet Underground one will always wonder if what they’re hearing is Andy Warhol, or John Cale, or a studio production, but with Reed’s solo material it’s much more Reed. And while the Velvet Underground were decidedly bare in their sound, with Transformer Lou Reed goes glam (influenced perhaps by David Bowie who is helming production) and amps up the sound, making it a richer tapestry.

The results are some of the most recognizable and relatable Lou Reed songs on his career. I’m not a Lou Reed absolutist by any means, but I can still recognize how essential songs like Perfect Day, Take a Walk on the Wild Side, and Satellite of Love are. And while lots of this “overproduction” can sound tired and cliché’d (we are talking about a very 70s kind of sound), the songs on Transformer still have a unique and fresh quality to them after 50 years. This isn’t just hindsight talking; the success of this album was enough to propel Reed as an international star and show that the man can hold his own. This is a testament to how Transformer is larger than the sum of its parts, with good songwriting and good production creating something bigger and more engrossing.

You cannot understand Lou Reed’s solo or musical career without Transformer. A perfect entry-point.

photo: turntablelab.com

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