Not as bad as advertised.
Music doesn’t have to be written. Music doesn’t have to be made with conventional instrumentation. Music doesn’t have to have a beat. Hell, it doesn’t even have to have a sound. Lou Reed knew this. Whether it was simply a middle finger, or a larger experiment, his Metal Machine Music double album defied everyone and everything to become a cult classic.
The fluttery, echoey mess of sounds drone on dissonantly. Metal Machine Music was initially issued as a two record set, with four tracks at roughly 16 minutes apiece. The fourth side featured an endless loop, which meant that you could listen to Metal Machine Music for eternity, if you so chose. There is very little variation in sound over the course of an hour, but interestingly, nothing is repeated and everything is unique. The random nature of these sounds ensures that recurring “hooks”, or “melodies”, or just “collections of noises that sound good together” never recur. There are certain peaks and valleys; seconds of slow action before quick snakey violence.
It sounds alien, jittery, intelligent, deep, scary, spontaneous, yet created with deliberate intent all at once. You are reminded of a signal from a neutron star deep in space, as scientists search for patterns in the noise. It is not only brilliant and stupid, but it is also the fine line in between. Why a double album? Why not just a single LP with the infinite groove at the end? Why not just a single track? Therein lies the middle finger aspect of Metal Machine Music.
There have been reams and reams of words written about Metal Machine Music by those far more literate than I, such as David Fricke and Lester Bangs. It has been performed live by Reed and it has been covered by chamber ensembles. It regularly makes both extremes of “Best Of” and “Worse Of” lists. It was released in stereo and quadrophonic, and even on DVD replicating the locked groove and quad mix. The demand for Metal Machine Music, which was originally deleted after a brief three-week release, has been immense. From curious onlookers to audiophiles, there is a release of Metal Machine Music for you. You can boast that you listened to the whole thing. There is obviously something to it; something our primitive brains can perceive and feed off. Whether it provides you with nourishment, or if you can’t finish the album, it will leave you with a strong impression.