Although his first solo album didn’t sell, Lou had support within the business, not least from his disciple David Bowie, who took it upon himself to produce his next album, with additional help on both sides of the glass from Mick Ronson. The combination immediately made Transformer better than its predecessor.
Right away “Vicious” applies another “Sweet Jane” variation to a provocative lyric suggested by Andy Warhol, who’s also the inspiration behind the highly ambiguous “Andy’s Chest”. One song that’s managed to become a standard of sorts is “Perfect Day”, though chances are the people who’ve come to love it and its covers haven’t considered that this is not your ordinary romantic walk in the park. “Hangin’ ‘Round” brings back the New York rock of the first album with a rewrite of “Wild Child”. Some of those streets are better celebrated in “Walk On The Wild Side”, the classic unlikely hit single with enough innuendo to excite generations of suburban punks.
The low-key “Make Up” begins with a detailed description of a “slick little girl” doing up her face, then slides into suggestions of transvestism, punctuated by a tuba, of all things. “Satellite Of Love” doesn’t have many lyrics, but they appear to be about a guy who likes to watch television while ruminating on somebody’s alleged promiscuity. Mick Ronson’s stately piano works well to counter Bowie’s backing vocals. Another slice of the streets comes in “Wagon Wheel”, which mostly rocks except for an odd midsection that brings everything to complete standstill. “New York Telephone Conversation” is basically an interlude, delivered in his thickest, sharpest Long Island accent. Some welcome rock returns in “I’m So Free”, before the tuba returns on “Goodnight Ladies”, another trip to the cabaret. (Of course, he’d already written its prototype as “Afterhours”, and while this one talks more about TV dinners than late night bars, it didn’t stop him from using the same changes for the bridge.)
Four decades on, Transformer is more notorious than excellent, but it was a hit, and with its success, Lou Reed became the new poster boy for decadence. It would prove to be something of a burden, but in the meantime, at least he could draw an audience for his songs.
Lou Reed Transformer (1972)—3
2002 30th Anniversary Edition: same as 1972, plus 3 extra tracks