Saturday, April 23, 2011

Neil Young song of the day (2)

It would be wrong to call "Trans" Neil Young's most divisive album, because pretty much everybody agreed that it was awful. Including his record company. I hadn't listened to it until last week. I would like to be the one to tell you that it has improved with age, that it is not as bad as people have made out. But I really can't. What was he thinking? We can only guess. Young seems quick to wrong-foot any audience he has picked up. Maybe it was just one of those. Maybe it was a concept album that didn't work. ("La Noise", too, was musically something of a concept album. Maybe some people don't like it either.)

As you already know, it features prominent use of Vocoder, an instrument that came back into vogue a couple of years back. (Auto-tune will be the next decade's Vocoder. Or the decade after that.) But it isn't really as electronic as it was held out to be. You can hear elements of Kraftwerk, sure, and obviously Giorgio Moroder, and even something that sounds not unlike Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene". But there is also a touch of (ashamed to admit to recognising this one) Supertramp, and even some early Talking Heads. (If you listen closely there are also bits that sound like Neil Young.) There is also a song that, if it had been recorded a little bit differently, and been released at another time, on another album, would surely be regarded as one of Young's great songs: "Like An Inca".

But we are here to pay respect to "Transformer Man", the track on which the whole electronic vibe meshes with the kind of emotional soul-wrenching that Young does better than almost anybody else. He pulls more emotion out of (mostly) pure electronic sounds than anybody since, well, Kraftwerk I suppose. Or, more recently, Junior Boys (who -- coincidence alert (or is it?) -- are also Canadian). So: "Transformer Man". Feast, as you listen, upon the Rockies-in-the-fifties-meets-Tron cover art. Which perhaps serves also as the best clue to where the record was coming from, and where it was meant to go.