Neil Young, Trans
Why critics thought it sucked: Synth hate, plain and simple. Neil Young was the very paragon of what (aging) record critics thought rock was supposed to sound like: guitar-driven and earnest, basically, the sound of “the old days.” So when Neil fell in love with Kraftwerk and applied what he’d learned from their sound into his own music, critics frothed at the mouth. How could their hero have abandoned them? The stink of their synth loathing has stuck to this album for years, and at the moment it’s even out of print in the U.S., so under-appreciated is it even by the artist himself.
Why it doesn’t suck: Because Neil’s take on synth pop is actually completely fascinating. Inspired by his attempts to communicate with his son (who has cerebral palsy), Neil’s use of vocoders was less about trying to sound “futuristic” and more about applying a layer of distortion to everything to duplicate the effect of not being understood. Trans is not much different from other Neil Young albums, as far as chord-progression and songwriting goes – throw some guitars on the excellent “Computer Age” and you’re in Buffalo Springfield territory, and “Transformer Man” is a gorgeous song, even though it sounds like it is sung by robots. And trust me, if you like electronic music at all, you’re gonna love hearing Neil’s jagged, distorted guitars living amongst mechanical dance beats on songs like “Computer Cowboy,” or the cool 80s futurism of “Sample and Hold.”
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