Nightman Listens To – Lou Reed – Transformer (Top 1000 Albums Series)

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard. As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go.

To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

Greetings, Glancers! It’s time once more to treat myself to some of the bestest notes ever recorded and see if they are agreeable to my superior listening abilities. This time around it looks like I’ll be dealing with a bona fide classic – not one which simply makes a single list of greatest albums and then fades into obscurity.

What I Know About Lou Reed: He’s dead. That he was one of the members of The Velvet Underground. That his gruff, flat, deep voice is distinct and that he was known for poetic lyrics and worked with a wide variety of performers in many genres.

What I Know About Transformer: If I know my teenage self (and I think I do) then I know that this is an album that my teenage self should really have listened to all those years ago. I was aware of it then, I knew some of the songs, but for reason I never actually made the effort to seek out the album and listen to it all. I know plenty of my friends owned it, but again the time was never right to say ‘stick that on and let’s have a go’. I’m aware that it isn’t a party album. I’m aware that some people, critics included, absolutely despise this album, though not to the extent of Metal Machine Music.

Vicious: Clanging chords. Distinct voice. Rapping without rapping. Vocals getting a little lost in the mix. Manic guitars. Hit me with a flower. Fairly simple, though with an ocassional slight change in the beat or guitars in each verse to catch you off guard. More manic guitars, decent first track.

Andy’s Chest: Softer. Reminds me of Bowie. Good lyrics. Drums. Growing. More weirdo lyrics. Funky enough, nothing outstanding for me, nothing bad.

Perfect Day: Obviously I know this one, but I can’t help hearing the Children In Need version. A fantastic song all round, perfectly suited to Reed’s voice, moody, false grandeur, nostalgic, bleak and glorious. Fantastic strings which, of course, I’m a sucker for.

Hangin Around: Sudden shift in tone. Fast, rocking, glam. Amusing lyrics. Jeanie. No overall hook or melody, but energetic and interesting.

Walk On The Wild Side: And of course we all know this one. It always irritated me when I was younger (I’m talking before I was 10), but quickly grew on me. I’m still not a huge fan of it, but it’s clearly a great song.

Make Up: Trumpets. Bump. Bump. Funny lyrics. Sardonic. Sarcastic. Horny.

Satellite Of Love: Sudden start. Sounds immediately like Bowie. Piano led. Sounds familiar. A more traditional melodic approach. Someone’s been naughty all week. Distractions. Avoidances. Jaunty end. Sounds like Bowie has joined in the vocals.

Wagon Wheel: Rolling rolling, rawhide, more glam guitars and rhythms. Odd backing vocals. Drums coming in and leaving and shifting at unusual spots.

New York Telephone Conversation: Jaunty beats and melodies. More mocking and sarcasm.

I’m So Free: Bouncy. Woo Ooh. Another up-tempo, simple song. Good guitar, good drums, ok melodies.

Goodnight Ladies: A slow, drunken, jazzy ending. Some shifts in tempo, more good lyrics. Another decent song, though nothing which I would particularly find appealing.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 58/1000

What I Learned: The early Seventies were a crazy time, with a number of outspoken musicians taking music and lyrical content in new directions. Well, I knew that already. I don’t think I learned anything aside from that most of this really sounds like a Bowie album.

Does It Deserve It’s Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: From a cultural and historic point of view, yes. It was a big hit, launched Reed’s solo career, and had a couple of huge singles. It went on to influence any number of artists. The songs themselves are all of a good quality, though the glam genre gets on my nerves quite a bit as it feels so samey – throw a bunch of poetry into the blender and add basic, lightly distorted chords over the top. From my perspective, it’s all good, there aren’t any weak songs, but a number of them repeat the same sounds and ideas without being distinct enough, at least on first listen. I’d listen to it again, but I couldn’t call it a favourite.

Let me know what your thoughts on this album are. Do you feel it deserves its place in the top 1000 albums of all time? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

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