Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Lou Reed "Transformer"

You hit me with a flower
5 Out Of 5 Stars

David Bowie and Mick Ronson must have really been fans of The Velvet Underground, because when Lou Reed's fledgling solo career needed a dynamite second album, the two of them stepped in and offered to produce. The glam-bomb that is "Transformer" became a bona-fide hit and delivered what is arguably the weirdest top 40 single of the 70's, "Walk On The Wild Side." Bowie and Ronson tarted up Reed with glammy arrangements that also flirt with cabaret while leaning heavily on atmospherics, which resulted in an enduring classic and one of the few times Reed made a conscious effort at recording a commercial album (albeit one that deals with drag queens, dealers, drug users and plenty of other denizens of NYC's darker regions).

"Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"

You didn't hear much anything else like it on the AM radio, and nothing much like it since. Bowie and Ronson kept the production clean and "Walk On The Wild Side" had a slithering bassline that carried most of the song, topped by Reed's deadpan delivery. When he tries to really sing ("Goodnight Ladies"), it comes close to the Berlin trappings that he'd explore on his next album. Still, the songs are often smarter than a surface listen would give away, like the lovely "Perfect Day." It sounds like another nice day in the city until you understand that it's about wandering Central Park while higher than a kite.

That was Reed's greatest strength on "Transformer," that he could so easily couch lyrics that almost anyone else would run and hide from before committing them to an album. The flirtatious mixing around with sexual identity ("Make Up," "Walk") was probably just as much Bowie's Ziggy personae giving Reed a bit of a goosing, but it holds up really well. You also can't discount Ronson's contributions, as it's his fuzz-buzz guitar that drives "Vicious" for one instance.

The songs themselves have endured, too. "Satellite of Love" (complete with Bowie singing back-up) remains one of Reed's best, and stands as strong as "Walk On The Wild Side" and "Perfect Day." "Transformer" marked the launching pad commercially for Lou Reed, is as flawless a record as the 70's had to offer, and possibly the best outside album work Bowie has been involved in.


While I was away.

I've been a naughty, negligent blogger for the last month. Part has been busyness, the other part just laziness. I also have a two week excuse for the early part of May because I was doing this.

We took a two week tour of India and Nepal (mainly Kathmandu). It was a beautiful if eye-opening experience. You are surrounded by ancient beauty, modern opulence and mind boggling overpopulation and mind numbing poverty. It's a trip I'm glad we took but don't know if I'd ever want to return. I will return to my regular tour of my record collection soon. I hope somebody missed me.