Even in Neil Young’s erratic catalogue, Trans is his most atypical album. Trans was inspired by Young’s difficulty communicating with his cerebral palsy affected son. Young filters his vocals through a vocoder, creating an unsettling electronic effect, but the album still features prominent guitars; it’s not so far removed from Young’s usual strengths to be inaccessible to fans. The album’s biggest problem is that it comes across as a novelty record; some of the electronic effects haven’t aged gracefully, and it’s hard to take the technological themes seriously for the same reason. Strangely, each side of the original LP opens with a relatively straightforward and innocuous country rock tune.
The lengthy ‘Like An Inca’ is perhaps the most quintessentially Young song here; it would have been a standout on any of his seventies albums, but its repetitive riff fits the style of Trans perfectly. Electronics come to the fore in the highly entertaining ‘We R In Control’ (with phone tones used amusingly as percussion) and ‘Sample And Hold’. Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Mr Soul’ is reinvented electronically, although it still features the same guitar riff, while ‘Transformer Man’ holds up well as a song in 1993’s Unplugged rendition.
Trans is a surprisingly strong collection of tunes and completely different from the rest of Young’s catalogue, and more open minded fans would be well advised to check it out.