Listening to the demo takes included on this remeastered edition reveals the degree to which Transformer's released state actually drains Reed's music of its inherent energy, turning his intense, frank, driven, incisive tunes into fey, twee, cabaret-sounding stuff. Given Reed's subject matter, I suppose the cabaret sound (reflected in clunky, halting drums and kitschy oompa-rhythms) is actually fitting, but only in a conceptual way, not as an actual listening experience. That leaves us with embarassing lyrics with a fetish for toes and noses. The released version of "Perfect Day," for example, carries nothing of the directness or fervor of the demo, foisting instead a half-hearted holiday that comes off as almost apologetic. Such treatment doesn't make the songs more frank but rather listless. Compare the lifeless "Satellite of Love" on Transformer with the rich, resonating version at the end of the fantastic Velvet Underground box set, and you'll what I mean.
Though the album production obviously includes far more instruments than Reed's spare demos, the final album actually sounds underproduced in comparison, sort of hollow and spongy. The sole exception is "Walk on the Wild Side," the song Transformer will forever be known for, and the song with the fullest, frankest exploration of sexual freedom. This song gets the fullest, most complimentary soundscape--that suave constant bass line rilling underneath the brushed drums, and then one of rock's coolest sax solos. If this means that my theory about the purposely frumpy cabaret sound is mistaken, that the record's producers (who included David Bowie) really had no stable conception for Reed's music, then the album is even worse than I think.