When it was released, Trans was Neil Young's most baffling album. He had employed a vocoder to synthesize his voice on five of the album's nine tracks, resulting in disembodied singing, the lyrics nearly impossible to decipher without the lyric sheet. And even when you read the words, "Computer Age," "We R in Control," "Transformer Man," "Computer Cowboy," and "Sample and Hold" seemed like a vague mishmash of high-tech jargon. Later, Young would reveal that some of the songs expressed a theme of attempted communication with his disabled son, and in that context, lines like "I stand by you" and "So many things still left to do/But we haven't made it yet" seemed clearer. But the vocoder, which robbed Young's voice of its dynamics and phrasing, still kept the songs from being as moving as they were intended to be. And despite the crisp dance beats and synthesizers, the music sounded less like new Kraftwerk than like old Devo. A few more conventional Young songs (left over from an earlier rejected album) seemed out of place. Trans had a few good songs, notably "Sample and Hold" (which seemed to be about a computer dating service for robots), a remake of "Mr. Soul," and "Like an Inca" (an intended cross between "Like a Hurricane" and "Cortez the Killer"?), but on the whole it was an idea that just didn't work.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann