Classic albums re-examined: Lou Reed – Transformer

Lou Reed Transformer album artwork

Lou Reed – Transformer

Music On Vinyl (Vinyl)

By Paul Rigby

This particular release has become a dyed in the wool classic. Created with the help of David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the second solo album release from Reed took him down a new pathway, a more commercial direction – thanks to his new partners – but one that retained the Reed energy and power.

After leaving the seminal rock group, Velvet Underground, Reed released his debut album , ‘Lou Reed’, to a storm of indifference and some slight confusion. The album lacked direction or confidence but gave a formal hand-shake to confusion and uncertainty.

Released at the tail end of 1972, ‘Transformer’ was thus an important album, strategically, for Reed. In terms of his stalled debut and for the development of the man as an artist, this album needed to be good – very good – to compete with that year’s album releases because, despite the pretentiousness of the incoming glam rock scene and the emergence of the likes of Gary Glitter’s ‘Glitter’ you had already seen and heard memorable albums such as Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’, Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile On Main Street’, Roxy Music’s self-titled debut, Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ and Bowie’s own ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spider’s From Mars’.

Of course, Reed was also combating at stew of drugs from heroin to speed to a wide variety of amphetamines. He was living on an edge that, with one unfortunate nudge, could have pushed him into an oblivion of his own making.

Yet, from this promising yet underwhelming start to a solo career, ‘Transformer’ turned out to be a revelation. Which makes the Bowie/Ronson collaboration all the more important. Their incisive ability to merge melody with pop-centric sensibilities while also retaining the credibility that makes Reed…Reed, gives this album a blend that allows the listener to rock out with a smile on their face. Songs such ‘Walk On the Wild Side’ plus oft played ditties such as ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Satellite Of Love’ provide structure, content and an incisive perception of his surroundings.

The newest reissue of this LP has arrived via Music On Vinyl. A well pressed, sensibly-priced package, on 180gm vinyl, it can be highly recommended for both the curious and the fan. UK boss, Mike Gething commented, “This LP stands on its own. There are no extra tracks and there’s no extra packaging. It looks exactly the same as the original apart from our logo in the corner. This release is a testimony to the music, in fact.”

And it seems that customers agree, because the LP is a steady seller, “We’ve done 2,000 sales on this album already, it puts it above halfway on our overall sales list. It’s a good and consistent seller.

“Generally, we sell records for lots of different reasons: plucking out a collectable item, releasing a coloured vinyl version, a limited/numbered release and so on. Yet, this LP is a straight reissue, interestingly. An album that, on CD, you can pick up for next to nothing. And yet there is a market for this vinyl for a fair price, though it’s not cheap. Something around £18 or £19. The person buying this vinyl will probably know it inside out and probably owns it already but what these buyers don’t want is a second-hand record. This reissue is aimed at someone who is familiar with the record, presented as a really nice pressing, pristine and new. It’s for a different sort of person who doesn’t want a RCA original. It’s there for the quality of the music and the pressing.”

On a related issue. RCA were experimenting with Dynaflex at the time of the release of ‘Transformer’. Dynaflex was RCA’s fancy marketing speak for selling albums on very thin vinyl. Some pressings of this Lou Reed original were produced in that way (notably in the USA) but, even for those pressings not under the Dynaflex brand (generally those sold in the UK), the original issue was still produced on relatively thin vinyl. The reason? To save money on the vinyl itself, storage and shipping costs.

User comments on the original pressing have, over the years, been variable. Some actually praising the quality of the pressing, others bemoaning the sound reproduction and noting that, dynamically, the sound quality of the original sounded constricted with a muted bass. The bottom line? There’s been little consistency in the pressing quality and that’s what Music On Vinyl gives you because they own their own pressing plant, based in Holland.

This issue is highly recommended as a good quality, no frills, brilliant value for money reissue with excellent sound quality. Fans will love it. My advice for those who haven’t? Take a walk on the wild side and give it a go.

Stand-out track: Walk On The Wild Side

The stand-out track of the album which remains Reed’s most commercially successful release takes a laid-back jazz vibe to a freak show of a story that, more than likely, reflects Reed’s voyeuristic take on the world and society that attached itself to Reed’s friend, Andy Warhol. A subtle yet difficult track for a hi-fi to successful reproduce in its entirety, the song demands much from the hi-fi’s midrange abilities.

Stand-out track: Satellite Of Love

Complete with backing vocals from David Bowie, this tale of life with an unfaithful girlfriend was originally slated for release for Reed’s former band, Velvet Underground. With a slightly surreal arrangement, the song demands a hi-fi that has inherent transparency. An average system will present this piece as a sonic lump, a set-up that focuses on clarity will be able to tease the song’s varied elements apart for your ears.

Transformer – A Recorded History

1972 CD Sony UK 7546622

1995 CD RCA 66600

1995 CD RCA 83806

1997 CD BMG Special Products 44541

1999 CD RCA 74321601812

1999 LP Simply Vintage 0000058

2002 CD Collectables 9627

2005 LP Simply Vinyl 000000725

2006 LP Simply 00029858

2007 CD RCA 88697123292

2007 LP Sony BMG 88697159731

2007 LP Sony BMG 00032132

2009 LP Speakers Corner LSP-4807

2010 LP Music On Vinyl MOVLP039

2 Comments

  • moog_man says:

    Interesting. Is this a discreet plug for the most recent pressing by Music On Vinyl? Because the Speakers Corner pressing is far superior. And, the latter are intelligent enough not to place their company logo on either the vinyl or sleeve – thereby maintaining the integrity of the original release. In every aspect.
    These are my ears, of course. But have a listen to both pressings and hear for yourself.

  • Susanna Grant says:

    Hi Moog man,
    Thanks for your comment. This isn’t a plug (discreet or otherwise!) for the new pressing of Transformer. We re-examine classic albums monthly and usually we choose one that has been newly pressed. The Music On Vinyl release was the reason we decided to choose this particular album but the aim of the post is to hopefully encourage debate and discussion amongst readers.

    Kind regards
    Susanna
    Society of Sound

Add a comment

We welcome debate within Society of Sound, but please keep it friendly, respectful and relevant. We have a few house rules which we ask you to abide by to keep the debate intelligent. Read more.
Product enquiry or support issue? Please click here.

Related posts

Scratch My Back by Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel new album – ” A thing of beauty”.

  Peter Gabriel's album is gathering stunning reviews and show that he is still, very much, an artist to be reckoned with. We'… Read more

Mira-Calix_Header

Mira Calix’s top 10 headphone albums

Musician and award-winning sound installation artist, Mira Calix gives us her favourite albums to listen to on headphones. We highly … Read more

Zeppelin Air

Do we need another digital music format?

  According to What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision the music industry is getting together to launch another new digital music format. … Read more