So, I’m about thirty years too late to be having this revelation, but just in case there’s anyone else out there who hasn’t been enlightened: Lou Reed is awesome. Really, really maddeningly awesome, and there’s probably no better evidence of this than his breakthrough second solo album (released following his now legendary years as part of the Velvet Underground from 1965-1970), Transformer, which unlike his self-titled debut, contains primarily new material. And when it comes to slick rock n’ roll with a tongue-in-cheek humor and an eagerness to push the envelope and explore the genre’s seedier underbelly, there’s few who do it better than Reed. Throw in some spot-on, experimental production from Mick Ronson and David Bowie and an overtly salacious lead single that somehow managed to evade radio censors (“Walk On The Wild Side”) and you’ve got the signature release from one of glam’s founding fathers.
Transformer launches out on a solid note with “Vicious,” whose opening line (“Vicious – you hit me with a flower”) was lifted straight from Andy Warhol. With crunching stabs of electric guitar and Reed’s blissed-out, distinctive vocals, this punchy opener is instantly catchy and its sharp-edged lyrics are a nice contrast to the crackling instrumentation.
Both “Andy’s Chest” and “Satellite Of Love” (which was notably featured in a hilarious scene in Todd Haynes love-letter to glam rock, Velvet Goldmine, in which the two leads are literally coasting in a satellite of love) are holdovers from Reed’s Velvet Underground days.
The former is a lilting odyssey of intriguingly odd lyrics (“Instead of a denatured ocelot on a leash/I’d rather be a kite and be tied to the end of your string” and “And just like in a movie her hands became her feet/her belly button was her mouth/Which meant she tasted what she’d speak” are a few choice lines), while “Satellite Of Love” is really nothing short of lovely, and not just because I’m so enamored with the deliciously over-the-top Velvet Goldmine from which, incidentally, I was first introduced to Reed. With David Bowie on backing vocals and a sweeping jauntiness to the instrumentation, the song – which Reed once described as being about “the worst kind of jealousy” towards an unfaithful girlfriend – is bizarrely poignant and, of course, addictingly catchy.
But the standout of the album, for me at least, has to be “Perfect Day.” A marked departure from the rest of the album’s blackhearted irony and whirlwind pace, this track instead couples sweeping strings and devotedly yearning lyrics with a soaring, sensitive vocal from Reed to make this a stunning, powerful ode and an interesting segue way into the upbeat, guitar-driven “Hangin’ Round” and the gender-bending “Walk On The Wild Side,” which, by now, needs no introduction.
For a fast-moving, fascinatingly varied collection of tracks, look no further than Transformer; Reed on this release is at his most gleeful and bizarre and the music itself is at once hard-edged with a pop sensibility which makes it nearly impossible to resist.