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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Lou Reed - Transformer (Classic Albums)
Lou Reed - Transformer (Classic Albums)
Pioneer // Unrated // December 4, 2001
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted December 30, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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When Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground it seemed as if he may have left his best music making opportunities behind him. The fostering atmosphere of Andy Warhol's Factory had helped put his songs on the map and his first solo album went nowhere. Then, with the help of David Bowie and Mick Ronson, Reed released an album of such staggering musical breadth and depth that it seems almost impossible. The track list includes some of the most memorable songs of the era: "Satellite of Love", "Perfect Day", "Walk on the Wild Side", "Vicious." 1972's Transformer became a touchstone for fans and musicians alike and made a lasting impression in the ether of pop music.

The Classic Albums DVD of Transformer takes a look at where the album came from, how it was made, and the effect it has had. By interviewing key players, including Reed and Bowie (the late Ronson is shown in archival interviews) as well as engineers, studio musicians, and critics, the DVD really gets at where the sounds and songs had their origins. Numerous members of Warhol's crew weigh in on how their lives inspired Reed's words, including the folks who comprise "Walk on the Wild Side"'s memorable cast of characters.

Additionally, the music itself is presented a number of ways: Reed sings and plays the songs in the studio accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. His time worn groan of a voice and the quiet strumming bring out every nuance of the lyrics and melodies. He is also shown playing them in concert with his band, and the original masters are played in a mixing booth while Reed and Transformer engineer Ken Scott twiddle the knobs to single out specific instruments and vocal tracks. This sense of taking the music apart in order to put it back together is the best way to understand how it gets made in the first place. Plus, it is just fun: The look of joy on Reed's face when he isolates Bowie's high-pitched backing vocals on "Satellite of Love" shows that he is still transported by the music. When session bassist Herbie Flowers shows how he doubled the bass track to get "Walk on the Wild Side"'s unique sound, it's like a magician letting you in on a really cool trick.

All of this underscores the album's key strength, what makes it so great: Reed's songwriting. He writes, sort of like Bob Dylan, in a way that allows the songs to be performed in a wide variety of styles without losing their effectiveness. When a recent all-star rendition of "Perfect Day" plays, featuring Reed, Bono, and Bowie trading lines with a bevy of opera stars and other musicians, it becomes clear that it's the melancholy melody, poignantly simple lyrics, and spare instrumentation that make the song, and the rest of Transformer, so timeless.

VIDEO:
The video quality varies from source to source, but all the material shot for this DVD looks sharp and clean. Archived footage, of course, looks more worn. The video is anamorphic.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is fine. The music sounds great, especially in the mixing booth sequences. It's amazing that this music is over a quarter century old. It sounds fresh, more original, and more exciting than anything being recorded today.

EXTRAS:
A generous selection of additional interview footage is also included. This is great material for anyone looking to delve just a little bit deeper into this fascinating material.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
The creation of music can be a very interesting topic, especially when a piece focuses so specifically, as the Classic Albums series does, on one work at a time. By exploring Reed's writing, Bowie and Ronson's production, the fine musicianship, and the times in which Transformer was recorded, this DVD does a great job of putting some great music into its proper context. It only serves as a reminder that the best art is not created in a vacuum, but rather by talented people inspired by their surroundings and collaborators.

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