Lou Reed Steve Simels - Essay

Steve Simels

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Transformer"] is a major disappointment after [Reed's] brilliant first effort. Who would have thought that the man who wrote Sister Ray could turn out—and so soon—to be just another pretty face?

Well, of course, that's not really fair. Reed, you'll recall, was the creative force behind the Velvet Underground, that strange and still misunderstood aggregation that sang about heroin and Jesus before either was pop-fashionable. In 1966, in fact, Lou and the Velvets were about as avant-garde as could be—which consequently obscured the fact that they were a classic hardrock band cut from the same cloth as the original Byrds or the early Rolling Stones … and that Lou was an exquisitely acute songwriter….

That's all still true, but you'd be hard put to prove it with anything from Reed's new "Transformer." There are a few cuts that suggest the Reed of old, and predictably they're the rockers—the cosmic punk-stupidity of Vicious and Hangin' Round, for instance—but even there the effort is sabotaged by limp production values…. I could probably abide this (after all, a similar problem flawed the last album) if so many of the songs weren't obvious throwaways. Good Night Ladies, for example, is a music-hall monologue that is perhaps wryly amusing the first time through, but to say that it lacks staying power is something of an understatement.

I won't dwell on the sexual posturing of the rest of the material; Lou's gayness interests me even less than Bowie's; if anything, it comes off here simply as a commercial ploy. On that level, at least, I wish him luck; if some of the Bowie magic rubs off on him, fine, but artistically it's a dead end. What Lou should do—and fast—is to get himself back to New York City where he belongs, and find a powerhouse band that understands him.

Steve Simels, "Bowie and Hoople and Reed," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1973 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 30, No. 2, February, 1973, p. 92.∗