Neil Young – Trans (1982)

Who put the bomb on the sacred altar?

“Trans” is the true litmus test of all of Neil’s albums. It is often only understood by the most die hard fans. Am I right? Most casual fans love his more commercial, his more artistic, or simply put – his better albums, but the die hard fans enjoy this mostly because it is different. And so the “Geffen years” began.

And oh my god, this is different. Had Neil been listening to Kraftwerk and wanted to try it? Neil has said that he searched for ways to communicate. That urge took him to a strange place. Many of the songs on this album is sung via a vocoder that makes his voice sound like a computer voice. This is madness?

As always with Neil, we can find fantastic songs buried deep within the most experimental music styles. This was indeed proven at his unplugged performance in 1993 when he played two songs from this record and they were perfect for his country-band setting used in that concert.

We also get the usual sweet love songs that Neil never miss to bring into almost all his projects. Here it is “Little thing called love” and “Hold on to you love”. Both niceties, but no home runs.

“Computer age” is the first song with “the voice” and the fans must have been flabbergasted when the album was released. They still are! Hey, it is a great song, but the production! Crazy indeed. One thing is to make this strange music, but the lyrics? What was he thinking? And I love it! “We R in control” he takes it a step further and this may be the song that is most like Kraftwerk. 

How munch did they know about computers in 1982 even? Crazy.

“Transformer man” is another great song buried under “the voice” and multiple synthesizers. It sound synthetic to me. “Computer cowboy” is more fun than great. Syschrusher! Syschrusher!

An interesting note is that both “Sample and holder” and “Like an Inca” is much longer on the cd version of the album. This album is also not re-issued and remastered in his “Original Releases Series” yet. I have not heard if the five albums he did for Geffen 1982-1987 will be released in that series. 

Neil seems to have put two weak songs as starters on each side. But at least they both have his normal singing. But this is the album defined by “the voice”. Let’s go all in on it. The second track “Sample and hold” is a really, really great song. For real. Sure, “the voice” is there but it works! Maybe he has broken down the my defenses… I am amazed how good this song is. I do need a unit to sample and hold. True.

Only two songs left, and the strangeness doesn’t go away. First he re-makes “Mr. Soul”, the old classic Buffalo Springfield song from the sixties. It works, with the drum machine- beats and the voice. It has a nice groove, and it was especially great on the Trans Tour 1982. Where he also visited Sweden by the way.

But it is the last song that may be the hidden (Inca) gold on this record. It is played as “normal songs”, and it could easily have be taken from “Life” (a later Geffen record). “Like an Inca” is a really nice anchor on the record. This is good but not in the realm of “Cortez the Killer” of course. I am not mad. But it is sweet and a lot of bongos.

The Gypsy told my fortune. She said that nothing showed.

My rating: 7/10

Side A:

  1. Little thing called love
  2. Computer age
  3. We R in Control
  4. Transformer man
  5. Computer cowboy (AKA Syscrusher)

Side B:

  1. Hold on to your love
  2. Sample and hold
  3. Mr. Soul
  4. Like and Inca 

Best songs: “Like an Inca”, “Sample and hold”, “Transformer man” and “Computer age”

Released on December 29, 1982

Media: Vinyl 1982

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