Picks and Pans Review: Trans
Imagine one of the old singing cowboys riding into town, tying up his horse, and pushing through the swinging doors to enter—WHAT?—a video games parlor. That's the kind of shock one encounters on this album, on which Canadian folk-poke Young literally sings "Come a ky ky yippee yi yippee-yi-ay" through a voice-distorting computer. Just as it was a shock to hear Dylan go electric, it takes a leap of artistic faith to accept a robotic Young. For not only is his sound synthesized but so are his themes, on tunes like Computer Age, We in Control (shades of 1984's antiliterate society), Transformer Man and Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher). The most conventional cut, Little Thing Called Love, sticks out like an anachronism. It's laudable that Young remains willing to take artistic risks, and he has put together an impressive band of veterans including Nils Lofgren (guitar and keyboards), Bruce Palmer (bass), Ben Keith (pedal steel and keyboards), Joe Lala (percussion) and Ralph Molina (drums). But it's sad to see a former trend-setter chasing a fad a little too desperately here. As if to underscore what he's up to, Young offers his classic Mr. Soul. The lyric line from the tune that stands out is "Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster." Somehow, short-circuited by Young's new, unimproved electronic voice, the line unwittingly becomes this album's self-critique.