“Lou Reed is the real thing”, a 1972 radio advert read as Lou Reed was going to soon be propelled into international stardom from his David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced and arranged masterpiece, Transformer. From the cult favorites of New York’s seedy underbelly, Reed would touch new heights with his music and form a gracious, vivid, and illustrative look into the nightlife of Lou Reed’s strange, but prolific writing style.
New York was an industrial beast in the 1970’s with talent overflowing in every corner of the Five Boroughs. Reed was born in Brooklyn and reflected the raw animalistic bite that the city portrayed through his musical extension of his first mainstream success of Transformer. The album that opened with “Vicious”, a rock and cowbell heavy track that showed elements of distortion through the use of vibrating guitars and disrupting shifts. Reed brought in an added sense of the highs and lows of a cityscape, Transformer takes a similar approach and has incredibly energetic moments as “Vicious” carries on to become a tall-standing foundation for Reed to ride through the hard pounding percussion and rampaging guitars that whirl the track to its final end.
There are also the lows of Transformer that take place on “Perfect Day” where Reed becomes a virtuoso behind the gentle piano and vocals that provide the foreground of the production. While the slowing rising strings and percussion start to fade into frame, “Perfect Day” erupts into a glorious display of lovely arrangements of instrumentation that transports Reed into new territory after the frantic styling of “Vicious”.
Transformer takes on these different approaches and methods to creating multiple steps through the collection of emotional backgrounds and eventually comes full circle as Reed moves into “Hangin’ ‘Round”. Reed explains on the track’s chorus, “You keep hangin’ ‘round me, and I’m not so glad you found me. You’re still doing things that I gave up years ago…” over the colorful piano that chimes along in these quick bursts of notes. Lou Reed takes the challenge of morphing multiple styles into one single succession and through the example of how the sound changes so drastically, Reed provides context to the musical storyboard.
Even on the following “Walk On The Wild Side” where Reed describes the transgendered, drug abuse, and prostitution in a sense to describe the rare findings in New York’s eclectic streets. Reed explains, “Little Joe never once gave it away, everybody had to pay and pay. A hustle here and a hustle there, New York City is the place where they said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”. It is reflective of the background that Reed showcased through his lyrical style, but also in the musical background as well as he uses sullen, street sunken saxophones and an iconic bass line that has as much life as the hustling town that never sleeps.
Transformer is a progressive piece that uses a full range of instruments to compel the listener and to gravitate toward a new method of stylish, but substantial level of writing. It uses David Bowie’s legendary and adapting voice to provide the backing for Reed’s “Satellite of Love” that touches into the same territory of “Perfect Day” with a beautiful cascade of piano and gentle percussion that overshadows the true tenacity of Transformer. It is the beauty that loosens this grip and allows the listener to take a step back and appreciate Reed for his songwriting ability and the ability to string progression together into one overarching package.
Transformer is an illustrative sense of Lou Reed’s stream of musical style that touches into unknown bounds of beauty and jagged edges. And “In amidst of all the make believe-madness, the mock-depravity, and the pseudo-sexual anarchists, Lou Reed is the real thing,” and he has been since the New York established him all the way back in 1942.