Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #6

Lou Reed – Transformer

I never thought of Lou Reed as fun. He always seemed so serious, and the songs I was familiar with spoke of outsiders and people generally on the margins of polite society, like sex workers and junkies. It’s nuts that I thought that, given the evident humour in those tales (or the weirdness of something like “The Gift” from his Velvet Underground days). Plus, he was part of Warhol’s circle in the ‘60s, and though those folks were so pompous and narcissistic that it left little air in the room for visitors, no one would ever say they didn’t know how to party. (It may have helped that Warhol hung around with aliens.)

I no longer feel that way, at least based on this record. Co-Produced by David Bowie, it fits well as a glam rock complement to “Ziggy Stardust”. It earns its stripes as a rock record with tracks like “Vicious”, with its fuzzy guitar and not-so-vicious lyric “you hit me with a flower”, the jangly piano of “Hangin’ Round” and its dis of an old friend, and “I’m So Free”, a get-up-and-shake tune with a bit of a rockabilly feel. “Wagon Wheel” starts out like T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” before finding its own path.

What stands out for me are the odd little touches in quieter songs that are playful or whimsical. The ba-ba-ba-ba-ba’s on the chorus to “Andy’s Chest”, the bum-bum-bum’s of “Satellite of Love”, the endless do-do’s on “Walk on the Wild Side” or the tuba oom-pah-pah’s in “Make Up” (I’ve been walking around singing “slick little girl” for no good reason). More theatrical tunes like “New York Telephone Conversation” and “Goodnight Ladies” feature off-Broadway level backing that highlights the frolic within. My favourite – and, yes, I’ve been walking around singing this a lot, too – is the gentle piano and strings of the beautifully un-ironic “Perfect Day” (I assume I’m not the only person who first heard a version of it in this PlayStation commercial.) There is fun to be found in unexpected places.

(Originally posted on Facebook, June 13, 2021)