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.
"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)