Tag: Nico

MUSIC REVIEW | Lou Reed – Transformer (1972)

While my attempt to appreciate the music of the late Lou Reed logically began at the beginning with The Velvet Underground and Nico, the other title his name seems most synonymous with is his second solo release, Transformer.  Another album with a music snob pedigree that is probably partly responsible for my avoidance for so long.  Can anything ever be as good as the decades of hype and reverence built it up to be?

Opening track Vicious made me a lot more hopeful that Transformer might actually have a chance of meeting those expectations than Reed’s debut with the Velvet Undergound ever did.  It still has the signature Reed vocal quirks, but straight away, it sounded like a huge leap forward musically and melodically.  Less interested in experimentation and more concerned with well formed songs.

There’s old school rock and roll with Hangin’ Round and I’m So Free, complete with slick guitar licks.  They’re more middle of the road than anything I expected from Reed, and I don’t mean that as an insult.

Walk on the Wild Side and Satellite of Love may have been the only Lou Reed songs I was really aware of before this week and they more than hold up.  It’s obvious why someone like me, with the absolute minimal knowledge of his discography, knows these songs more than four decades after their release.

Make Up is a weird, almost playful combination of Reed’s attempt at a soft and sweet vocal delivery, quiet guitars and tuba.  Yes, tuba (which will appear again in album closer Goodnight Ladies).  It’s the kind of song that makes me think Reed may have had a much better sense of humour than the self-important, pompous view of him I’ve had all these years would suggest.  New York Telephone Conversation falls into the same category with its jaunty piano and jokey vocals.

Maybe I missed some sarcasm in Wagon Wheel when Reed sings “Live your life and make a point of havin’ some fun”, but if I did, I don’t care.  It’s good to hear something so seemingly light and breezy from one of rock’s most cantankerous blowhards.

What makes me like Transformer so much more than The Velvet Underground and Nico is the combination of storytelling and song writing.  While a lot of the older album seemed like poems and essays forced into music, Transformer sounds more like the lyrics and melody were actually written together.  Also, the complete lack of Nico helps too.

I don’t know how much comes down to David Bowie’s production, but compared to The Velvet Underground and Nico, Transformer is a straight up pop record, loaded with easily consumed toe tappers and sing alongs.  Maybe that doesn’t say much for my musical tastes, but I do know that the Velvet Underground album will probably never get another spin at my place, while Transformer most definitely will.

Lou Reed
Listen to Transformer on Spotify

MUSIC REVIEW | The Velvet Undergound and Nico (1967)

So a couple of days ago, music legend Lou Reed popped his clogs.  His death made me realise that I’ve always been pretty dismissive of Reed and The Velvet Underground.  I think I gave this album a listen when I was a teenager or in my early twenties and felt like it was something I needed to do if I was going to consider myself a serious music fan.  The problem is, when you assign yourself something like this as homework, it ends up feeling like homework.  I’ll also admit to being a bit of a contrarian and probably looked for reasons to not like it, simply because everyone else was telling me I should love it.  Whatever it was, nothing grabbed me back then.  But now it’s 2013, Lou Reed is gone and I felt like I should give The Velvet Underground and Nico another go.

I’ve never seen the romanticism in the idea of the junky poet, I’ve never dug music with a message and I can’t think of a single song where the greatest lyrics in the world make up for a lack of melody.  So I don’t care how profound or important the lyrics of something like Venus in Furs might be, if you’re gonna present it in the guise of a song, try to make it sound like a song.

Run, Run, Run and All Tomorrow’s Parties put a real edge on a more traditional 60s rock and roll, spaced out hippy sounds that I really liked it.  And despite it’s on the nose title and repetitive sound, Heroin is an amazing song that never gets boring or loses any intensity over the course of its endless loop.

Then there’s Black Angel Death Song and European Son, the kind of experimental, tossed off collections of noise that were probably passed off as intense, improvisations that captured “real” and “unfiltered” moments.  But they sound more like album filler to me, quickly slapped together when the band realised they were two songs shy of long player length.  And even if they were “real” and “unfiltered” moments of raw emotion, that doesn’t mean they warranted being captured for posterity.  There are plenty of terrible bands of teenagers making the same noise in garages everywhere right now as they try to learn their instruments, but we don’t ever need to hear it.

Lou Reed is one of those people who proves being a good singer has very little to do with having a good singing voice.  His signature twang and whiney inflections may not exhibit much range or vocal technique, but there’s an undeniable quality that really does add a level of authenticity and heart to every word.

Nico, on the other hand, is not one of those singers.  A song like I’ll Be Your Mirror sounds like it’s meant to be sweet and heartfelt.  Instead, she comes off as cold, flat and efficiently emotionless.  That couldn’t have been easy for a German.

It’s impossible to listen to any seminal album decades after its release and understand its full impact without the context of that time.  Sergeant Peppers, Dark Side of the Moon and Nevermind might have been revolutionary at the time, but when someone hears them for the first time today, they’ve also probably heard countless watered down, cheap imitations that take away some of that impact.  As for The Velvet Underground and Nico, I’d say even if this most recent listen hasn’t made me love it, it has made me respect it.  And it brought me a little closer to understanding the legendary status of the album and it’s most famous collaborator.

The Velvet Underground and Nico
Listen to The Velvet Underground and Nico on Spotify