Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music

You asked for it, and here it is. This album I'm posting up in the sincere belief that NOBODY SHOULD EVER ACTUALLY HAVE TO PAY FOR THIS. I did personally, and a reasonable amount too, but it was worth it really. No, really.

Mostly for the novelty, but also because I'm a big fan of Lou Reed's work (through the Velvets). I read his biography, so I know he's a pretty fucked-up guy, and in its time, and possibly still today, the music of the Velvet Underground was and is also pretty unconventional.

Which is why, in a roundabout way, this album didn't come as much of a surprise to me. Whether or not it's surprising that I sat through the whole thing, well, that's up to you to decide.

Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, released in 1975, is a tale of contractual obligation gone sour. Reed, an amazingly talented and pioneering rock'n'roll spongwriter, decided to take a right-hand turn into left field and released an album with no songs, vocals or even anything approximating normal instrumentation. (A warning to that effect was, apocryphally, meant to be included on the sleeve) Instead, he mixed layers of random, unattended feedback over each other into over an hour of squealing, formless, agonizing noise. After a while, obviously, you get a little used to it, and in fact Lou Reed began experimenting with feedback as a form of therapy - the actual success of which, unfortunately, is not recorded. "I didn't initially do it with the idea of making a record" he says, "I was doing it for fun".

The record which resulted was hardly a coherent album, although it does have its interesting features. It is separated into four parts (Metal Machine Music I, Metal Machine Music II, etc.) with no apparent reason, and closes on the original vinyl with an infinite loop. Meaning that, with a masterstroke of cruelty, the listener has to physically removed the needle to end the barrage of noise - something Lou apparently found quite amusing. On the CD version, for the sake of approximation, there is included a brief 'locked groove' which, in my opinion, makes for an interesting contrast with the preceding sixty minutes.


...that's pretty much what I hear in this record. Oh, that and the nascent sound of every succeeding noise-rock or experimental band to have recorded in the past three decades. But I'm no critic - if you listen carefully, this is what you should hear:

"...The strange thing about the locked groove is that it is the very point at which the squall suddenly becomes structure: a circular lopsided wave of rhythm and distortion. Stranger still, if you go back through the rest of of Metal Machine Music, you start to hear a certain oblique cohesion, patterns and effects that surge in and out of the chaos: shrill pipe-organ-like chords; treble-y shivers of demented surf guitar. And there are moments when the stereo halves of the mix suddenly erupt into a combined burst of feedback sunshine. It is a clarity that hurts; it leaves you blinded and shaken."

(From the liner notes to the Buddha Records CD reissue, written by David Fricke)

One thing I will say for certain is, when you finally finish listening to this, real music sounds SOOO GOOD.

Turn on, tune in, drop out

"In sum, if you want to indulge the pretentious art student residing in that pretentious indie rocker shell that you have constructed so well I'd definitely recommend Metal Machine Music. If all else fails, it's good as a conversation piece. And be sure to remember what Lou Reed said about it, "Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am."

(From a very good, sympathetic and rather cogent review from Stylus magazine's 'On Second Thought' series)


blend77 said...

haha!!! you actually posted it...

it is one of the most excrutiating listens i have heard. i think you need to be fucked up on at least 4 different amphetimines whilst also taking LSD to really appreciate this "album".

and Lou Reed is a scary preson to me... Ive had a number of nightmares of Lou Reed trying to kill me in NYC.... one of them while he was wearing his Transformer makeup, even though he was his current age... very weird. very unsettling. very much like Metal Machine Music...

good post though!

mr x, indeed said...

fuckin class record.
not as good as most of the noise music that it led the way for, but there's no other album so relentless in its vision.

i recall we had a stand-off over which would actualy fork out the money to buy the thing. very glad one of us did.

beautiful, formless, purposefully infuriating. once you get to the end you just end up sitting in a trance for a while and silence sounds so fucking loud.

gabbagabbahey said...

yeah, I posted it. Democracy at work. Actually, if the poll had gone for Blue Mask I would have posted this anyway just to fuck people over... Lou Reed style.

I'm going to post Blue Mask too, though. It's kinda like the post-rock equivalent of Metal Machine Music 'noise' pioneering.

@ Mr. X - I got this, you got the Dischord 30 Years. I guess that worked out, too!

acrosshistory said...

wow i have this on cd, back in pa, i never ripped it to my computer, it;s insanem but so ahead of it's time.. thanks...

gabbagabbahey said...

thanks for the comment, ah... wouldn't want you to be without an easily accessible copy of this "album"!

Keep up the good work on your blog... I added your link to my sidebar.

J Bubblegum said...

this is the best break up record ever.

rather, play it if you want your significant other to break up with you.

gabbagabbahey said...

^ well, Lou Reed did say it was therapy... he just didn't say what for!

Stephen McMullin said...

MMM always fascinated me — the idea that someone would record an hour of feedback and it would be released… the mind boggles! Then I bought the CD and was really surprised that far from being a purely irritating whine, it's actually quite interestingly textured, and I swear there are bits of other songs stuck in there to confuse…

I came across this page while looking for somewhere to buy the vinyl *blushes* — I know, I know, I know…

Have you heard the recent Zeitkratzer live version? I believe there are torrents out there with it. It's much warmer than the original, and is actually quite listenable in a kind of weird ambient way. Haven't seen the DVD, but only because I can't seem to find it anywhere.

It probably helps if you've a big joint handy, but I don't think it's essential.

gabbagabbahey said...

I'd actually say the Zeitkratzer version is more difficult to listen to; I'm more accustomed to the sound of electric guitar than (tortured) string instruments, and I found it even more unsettling. I've seen the CD in a couple of places, and my friend bought it (I bought the original, hopefully for only the 9.99 most other Lou Reed albums sell at these days) and I think I've only listened to it once.

The only reason I'd buy the vinyl of MMM is to get the proper locked groove at the end... but I'm not sure that works on modern (automatic) turntables?

Awesome album, though.