Lou Reed Classic Albums: Transformer

The "Classic Album" series tackles Lou Reed's second solo album, 1972's "Transformer," featuring an in-depth look at some of Reed's best known material including "Satellite of Love," "Perfect Day" and "Vicious." Video footage of Reed from his ‘60s Velvet Underground days until the present is mixed with interview segments with Reed and the cast who worked on the album including producer/songwriter David Bowie, producer/guitarist Mick Ronson, session bassist Herbie Flowers and engineer Ken Scott, along with commentary from journalist David Fricke, musician/fans Lenny Kaye and Dave Stewart, various Warhol associates and photographer Mick Rock. Although the drugs and debauchery that surrounded Lou Reed and David Bowie at the time are completely glossed over here, there is a story to tell about what went on in the studio to make this album. As an album that could arguably be responsible for Reed's successful solo career, the role played by collaborator David Bowie cannot be overstated. At the time Bowie was riding high on his first huge success with "Ziggy Stardust" and was paying respect to the significant influence the Velvet Underground had on his music. After Reed's first solo album was a complete flop, Bowie took it upon himself to make sure that "Transformer" would have a more commercially viable fate. While Reed's great stories of life with Andy Warhol in The Factory make for bold subject matter, Bowie's contributions are clearly what made "Transformer" a hit album. As producer, Bowie assembled the cast of musicians and engineers that worked on the album. A number of telling moments in the interview segments highlight Reed's distance from the actual recording process. It's interesting to hear session musicians struggle to remember Reed's presence at the sessions while Mick Ronson relays Reed's reluctance to tune his own guitar and Reed makes it clear how unfamiliar he is with master tapes when he sits down at the mixing board. A whole segment on the DVD is devoted to the famous bass line from the album's first hit, "Walk On The Wild Side," as it was completely conceived by session player Herbie Flowers. On the other side of the coin, the timelessness of the songs themselves can't be denied, along with the quality Reed's vivid prose. At one point the DVD creators have Reed recite his lyrics as poetry. It is difficult to reconcile the Lou Reed of today with the glam incarnation seen in the brief segments of ‘70s footage presented here. Reed might chalk it up to acting but unfortunately little insight is given to the makeup-laden poser of the early ‘70s who couldn't be any more at odds with the Lou Reed of today who talks about "Transformer" on this DVD.