Trans (1982)

Trans (1982)

Trans fails not because of what it is but what it is not. The album’s reputation as a catastrophic failed experiment has in recent years been disputed by revisionist hipsters, who cite it as a precursor to minimal wave, techno, and countless electronic music subgenres. If only that were true. Truth is, Trans could have been such a defining, trendsetting album, but Neil’s inability to wholly commit himself to the experiment results in an album that sounds indecisive and occasionally dilettantish. Struggling to communicate with his mostly non-verbal son, and under the influence of Devo, Neil immersed himself in a world of synthesizers, vocoders and synclaviers. Total immersion would have resulted in an album far ahead of its time, for much of Trans is incredibly prescient: the fantastic “Computer Age” still has no sonic analogue anywhere in music; the proto-electro “Sample And Hold” invents Daft Punk; a re-recording of “Mr. Soul” sounds like Thomas Dolby off the meds; and the gorgeous “Transformer Man” proves that Grandaddy was not the first to outfit artificial intelligence with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, the spell is broken by three songs from the aborted Island In The Sun album that bear little of the technological curiosity found elsewhere. Still, it’s true that Trans’ reputation could use some reevaluating; it is widely misunderstood as another vindictive raspberry by Neil the provocateur, but to compare it to pranks like Everybody’s Rockin’ is to ignore its deeply personal nature. It is a record about failure to communicate, and Neil, through gadgetry, articulates this failure with the same humanitarian depth as that found on his finest love songs.

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