Original Released on LP RCA Victor LSP 4807
(US, November 1972)
These days you can find drag queens on TV sitcoms and Broadway shows, "Warholian" has become a common adjective, and "Walk on the Wild Side" is something of a standard. That piquant slice of New York City underground life improbably propelled Lou Reed into the Top 20, and you can still find it on the radio, in films and commercials, and sampled on hip hop records. People may not remember the verses or what they mean, but few can forget that addictive chorus with its staccato "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo.."s. And Reed himself - the "Dark Prince" as the British press used to call him, whose very life expectancy had been speculated upon by both his cruelest critics and fiercest fans during the height of his mid-seventies notoriety. His collected lyrics have been published as volumes of poetry; his opinions have been solicited for the editorial pages of the New York Times; the French Ministry of Culture awarded him its Order of Arts and Letters. At the Jubilee 2000 Concert in Italy, part of a grassroots effort fronted by Bono to erase world debt, Lou even played before the Pope...!
With David Bowie as the young impresario, Lou Reed was re-modeled into a glam punk star for "Transformer". It’s arguably Reed’s best solo record, tapping into the VU vibe to showcase the singer’s bored, angry observations from the strung-out sexual culture of Andy Warhol’s Factory. "Transformer" contains Reed’s biggest hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” as well as lesser known but equally loved tracks like “Vicious” (a cousin to “Sweet Jane”) and “Satellite of Love” (the best Bowie song that Ziggy never wrote). Though the references to bisexuality belong to a bygone era, the impact of Reed’s lapses of clarity are still powerful today. “Andy’s Chest,” “Perfect Day” and “Wagon Wheel” hover in a hazy understanding punctuated by moments of piercing lucidity; only Reed can make the rhyming of “lazy” and “crazy” seem profound.
The backing musicians, led by Mick Ronson, provide arrangements that are spare but inventive. The music doesn’t always work; Reed’s Muswell Hillbillies impression on “Make Up” and “Goodnight Ladies” sounds out of it, but re-casting the vocalist in a variety of lights does give the material a lot of character. Song for song, "Transformer" is as good an album as Reed has made. Calling this glam is a stretch, since Reed lacks the requisite feyness crucial to glam, yet it is spacey at times. The artwork is also in, er, questionable taste, but as its title suggests, "Transformer" at least partly sought to celebrate the transvestite/bisexual culture. Reed’s status as a self-standing star was established with this record, and it remains a must-own for his fans.