Speakers Corner Records releases an upgraded vinyl of Lou Reed’s breakout 1972 album.
Lou Reed – Transformer – RCA Records LSP-4807 (1972)/Speakers Corner Records (2022) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 36:40 ****1/2:
(Lou Reed – guitar, vocals, arrangement; David Bowie – background vocals, arrangement; Mick Ronson – piano, recorder, guitar, background vocals, arrangement; Klaus Voorman – bass; Herbie Flowers – bass, tuba, arrangement; John Halzey – drums; Barry D’Souza – drums; Richie Dharma – drums; Ronnie Ross – baritone saxophone)
There may be no stronger influence on the genres of alternative/underground music than Lou Reed. As the main songwriter, lead guitarist and vocalist for The Velvet Underground, the eclectic non-commercial appeal of this band was a major influence on musicians around the world. Songs like “Heroin”, “Queen Jane” and “White Light White Heat” fomented a cutting edge to popular music that sat in contrast to mainstream rock. Reed enjoyed success as a solo artist helping to usher in the genre-bending and sexual liberation of glam rock. His second album Transformer charted and the single “Walk On The Wild Side” with its racy lyrics (sometimes edited on radio) cracked the Top 20 on Billboard. His commercial success was never maintained at the same level, but for the next 4 decades, the musical vision of Lou Reed was a touchstone of modern culture across various mediums.
Speakers Corner Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the game-changing 1972 Transformer album. With help from Velvet Underground devotees David Bowie and Mick Ronson, these 11 original compositions made Reed a bona fide rock star. Side 1 opens with the tight, edgy rocker “Vicious”. In a simple arrangement, there is a jagged electric guitar and Reed’s unique voice reciting sarcastic lyrics. It captures his former band’s style with smoother production. Reed’s street life observations continue on “Andy’s Chest” with his impeccable hypnotic intonation. In a change of pace, “A Perfect Day” is a deliberate piano-based number with string arrangements. The low-keyed love song features nuanced vocals and ends with repeat line of “you-re going to reap just what you sow”. Again, this is a departure from prior material. Switching back to visceral rock, “Hangin’ “Round” tells a cleverly-worded story of being anti-social to old friends (“You’re still doing things I gave up years ago”). “Walk On The Wild Side” explores the gender-challenging wild New York Warhol scene. The infectious groove and controversial imagery made this song Reed’s biggest hit. A melancholic saxophone at the end gives it a jazzy feel. Of course, the gospel-infused “doo-doo-doo” backup chorus is iconic. It is an artistic statement with musical accessibility.
Side 2 continues the unorthodox tapestry of styles and gender culture. “Make Up’ literally discusses cosmetics and clothing, intertwining them with social declarative statements like ”We’re comin’ out, out of our closets”. A tuba adds an exotic motif. A certain highlight is “Satellite Of Love”. It is an expansive, melodic representation and has idiosyncratic spacey backup vocals, recorder, piano and a cool rhythmic tempo break with horn shading that hits a soulful crescendo. In what feels like a throwback to “rock ’n’ soul” (not unlike Cabaret or Rocky Horror Show), “Wagon Wheel” utilizes a hard-charging guitar-based vibe, but with some hushed moments. It captures the spirit of Reed, and includes a call out to the blues song, “Wake Me Shake Me”. In a near Kurt Weill stream of consciousness tune, “New York Telephone Conversation” has a minute-and-a-half of bouncy piano and voice, translating an intimate story. With hand-clapping exuberance, “I Am So Free” celebrates the emancipation that derives from living in NYC. It is framed by a rocking pulse-driven jam and searing guitar riffs. The finale (“Good Night Ladies”) is a swaying tuba and old-school New Orleans-infused blues opus.
This vinyl re-mastering of Transformer is excellent. The sound mix is top notch and Reed’s laid-back delivery is captured with finesse. While the musical arrangements are more complex than his work with Velvet Underground, the production is understated. It never obscures the essence of this formidable talent.
Lou Reed – Transformer
Walk On The Wild Side
Satellite Of Love;
New York Telephone Conversation;
I’m So Free;
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