‘Transformer Man’ is probably most notorious for being part of the album ‘Trans’ that got Neil Young sued by his label for not sounding enough like himself, or in legal speak, being “musically uncharacteristic of Young’s previous recordings”.
While there’s interesting and intelligent stuff going on here, and it’s more appreciated now than it was in 1982, the record is not generally regarded as a Young classic.
When Trentemøller collaborator Marie Fisker suggested covering the song, it took him a while to get on board.
“Although I’m a huge Neil Young fan”, Anders says “I actually didn’t know about this song until Marie Fisker (a frequent collaborator (editor’s note)) played it to me when we sat down and thought about some songs that would be fun to cover for the Harbour Boat Trips Mix I was working on. I wasn’t a fan of the song and its sound in the first place, but the melody, especially the hook line, somehow caught me.
Sound is quite far away from what I normally listen to and so it wasn’t an obvious choice and instead I took it as a challenge to see which direction we could take the song. I thought it could be interesting to get rid of all that disco/vocoder stuff and focus on the song itself and suddenly it shined in new splendor. Marie interprets the song in such a personal way that it feels like, for us at least, it’s nearly a brand new tune. That’s what she’s really good at. I also felt it ts perfectly into the whole mix.”
His cover swaps out the original’s slightly cheesy, retro synth sound for a colder, starker, more affecting sound that puts it in spiritual sync with the ‘Harbour Boat Trips’ compilation that it’s a part of. With Marie Fisker on vocals, the cover keeps the original’s sense of alienation and anomie while bringing in into Trentemøller’s stylistic space, music that’s monochromatically beautiful and gripping.