The Nostalgia Series, vol. 3: Revisiting Lou Reed’s Transformer

By: Claudia Siregar |

As one of the most celebrated rock musicians in history, Lou Reed had embedded his legacy deep into the hearts of audiophiles everywhere. Other than for his works with The Velvet Underground and Nico and his endless experimental endeavours in rock music, the vocalist-lyricist of The Velvet Underground was mostly known for his solo single “Walk on the Wild Side”. Yet “Walk on the Wild Side” is just one of the many gems off Reed’s 1972 album “Transformer”, a successful, game-changing classic rock masterpiece people tend to overlook.

The album consists of 11 tracks, produced by big names such as David Bowie and Mick Ronson. The first track off the album, “Vicious”, which opens with Reed’s iconic line “Vicious! / You hit me with a flower”, is a rock n’ roll-inspired tune with energetic electric guitar sounds. An iconic opening track indeed. Then we move on to “Andy’s Chest”, a very Velvet Underground-reminiscent number that starts out softly with an acoustic guitar and Reed softly crooning out his metaphors and ends with a full band set playing in the background. Next, we have the infamous “Perfect Day” – a piano-driven love ballad in its own right, one of Reed’s most successful and well-produced singles of all time which talks about Reed being grateful for being able to spend his time with a partner who makes him forget about his feelings of despair and sadness.

All of the softness goes away as we move on to the next track, “Hangin’ Round.” Another rock n’ roll inspired number – somewhat adapting a rougher sound than Reed’s usual electric guitar plus drums sound this time. The rock n’ roll hype continues as we listen to the next track, “Walk on the Wild Side”, Reed’s wildly controversial take on the topics of drug abuse and sexual orientation. A very personal track indeed – yet ironically, it was THE song that catapulted Lou Reed into his legend status. The loud guitar-and-drum banging dies on the next track, “Make Up”, a rather chill, nice track with a moderately slow tempo that seems to have inspired an earlier form of dream pop. This dreamy atmosphere is soon replaced by a more somewhat classic sound by “Satellite of Love”, a piano ballad that sounds very Bowie ish (not surprising since Bowie was credited as one of the producers of the album). Tracks “Wagon Wheel” and “New York Telephone Conversation” (a baroque pop-esque track) also seem to have been Bowie-influenced, sounding nothing like Reed’s usual rock n’ roll/early dream pop/heartwrenching piano ballad formula, unlike their successor “I’m So Free” which takes us back to Lou Reed’s 60’s rock roots with its upbeat tempo and carefree lyrics. The album closes with the smooth jazz-influenced “Goodnight Ladies”, in which Reed softly sings “it’s time to say goodbye.”

Overall, the rough rock n’ roll-inspired sound in the album sounds like it gave birth to glam rock. The fact that the album was produced by Bowie, an icon of glam rock further confirms that “Transformer” is a work of art that helped transform glam rock into what it was back then. It is also worth noting that Reed speaks up about deeply-rooted problems in the society through his songs, and that is one of the reasons why this album is not worth forgetting. It reminds us that rock n’ roll isn’t supposed to be nice and pretty – it’s supposed to open our eyes to what’s going on.

Favourite track: Perfect Day

Listen to the album here

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