I'd always blindly accepted that Lou Reed is a legend, and a creative genius, and blah blah blah. But not long ago, I heard "Walk on the Wild Side" and I realized it's a pretty awful song. The melody is memorable, but the music is a trite reworking of '50s rock and roll.
The worst part of the song is the lyrics. They're full of lame rhymes (oooh... he rhymed "away" with "pay." Brilliant!), and they trick you into thinking you've been told a story when you've actually only met the characters. Yeah, Holly's a drag queen... so what? What about her? Who is she? I guess telling her story would actually require talent, and Reed seems a little short in that department.
With this sort of thought in mind, I decided to check out Transformer from the EPFL and listen to the whole album. Maybe I'm being too hard on the guy.
I don't think I'm wrong about Lou Reed. In fact, he might be one of the most overrated artists out there.
That's not to say I didn't find some good things on the album. "Perfect Day" is a phenomenal song. It highlights one of my biggest complaints about Reed, though: the man wouldn't know subtlety if he tripped over it. One reason "Perfect Day" is great is because it's completely open to interpretation. He didn't beat anybody over the head with his normal, "HEY LOOK AT ME, I'M A FREAKY DRUG ADDICT FREAK WHO HANGS OUT WITH FREAKS" nonsense. He simply sang his song and let the lyrics take the listener where they would.
I almost wonder if people celebrate Lou Reed because he gives 'straight' people (and I don't mean sexually straight, I mean culturally straight) a glimpse of the other side, the dark side, the "wild" side. My problem is, I've spent more than enough time with club kids and tranny hookers and drug addicts and all of the other people Reed sings about. His rose-colored portrayal of the wild side is bullshit. The straight side is dull, but the wild side certainly isn't all it's cracked up to be. Next time you see a transvestite heroin-addict whore, ask her if she'd like to clean up and live a quiet and stable life in a nice house with a kind man who treats her well. In my experience, the answer is almost always yes, even though most of them know they'll die before they beat their demons. Now ask someone who lives a quiet and stable life in a nice house with a kind man who treats her well if she ever fantasizes about giving it all up to become a drug-addicted prostitute.
I could go on and on about this album. The snideness of "New York Telephone Conversation" is pathetic, because the characters that Reed portrays with such love are just as shallow as the antagonists of that vapid phone conversation. He occasionally breaks away from his primitive rock and roll songwriting long enough to offer up a lame imitation of the Beatles' quirkiness, but a turd wrapped in a string section is still a turd. Actually, the arrangements by Mick Ronson are probably the best part of the album, and the bass on "Wild Side" is the only reason I can even get through the song.
The cover art is pretty awesome. It's a rough image of a rough-looking man, and it sets the tone for the subject matter. I only wish the music sounded more like the cover looks. The EPFL has two version of the CD; the one I checked out is a 2002 reissue, and I assume the other is one of the quick hack-job packages that every label slapped on their back catalogs when CDs became huge. The liner notes are interesting, but I only got through a couple of pages before the Lou Reed hero worship turned me off.
Listen if you like: cheesy rhymes, pre-British Invasion rock & roll filtered through '70s pre-punk, pretending drug addicts are fascinating rebels who are living a life of freedom
If it were food, it'd be: Ramen. We eat it when we're poor, then when we can afford something better, we romanticize how great it was.