REVIEW: Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music (1975)

LOU REED – Metal Machine Music (1975 RCA)

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.

/5 stars

 

91 comments

        1. Mike hinted he might review it, I didn’t think he’d go through with it so quickly though!

          I bought this album in 24/96 on HDtracks because I’m certifiably insane.

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        1. It’s the kind of disc that inspires listening to every nook and cranny of the soundscape. I still think hi-res is sort of snake oil, but it was only a few bucks more than the CD so I figured, screw it!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Did you get the hi-res version too, or the standard CD? There’s a quad Blu-ray somewhere for the super fans.

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        3. You’re gonna buy it? I love you!

          That’s my one regret about going hires. No physical copy. Maybe you and Harrison can send me a quad copy for my birthday. What a gift!

          Liked by 1 person

        4. According to Lou, pretty damn dumb.

          But I don’t think it’s dumb at all. If you’ve got the setup for it, that wall of guitar noise surrounding your brain from all sides sounds amazing.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. What’s most amusing to me is the only Lou Reed albums you’ve reviewed are this and Lulu. In most people’s eyes, you’re going from the bottom up!

    I think you’d really like Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. I did a write up on it over on Kontarian “Kabbage” Kopp’s site.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Not the last time he’ll be featured? I’m suitably intrigued. Transformer as produced by Mick Ronson and David Bowie? The four classic VU albums? The Peel Slowly and See box with all its bonus tracks? RNRA? New York?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I thought you might go for the box because it has every VU album in it plus bonus stuff. At least for owning. It’s a cool box, I’ve got it. It even has the banana sticker from the first album on the front of it.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. There’s some reasonably priced complete ones on Discogs for around $30, but I get not wanting to take the plunge quite yet. It’s a pretty kickass box though if you ever do reach that level of fandom.

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  2. Great to see the powerful and unique MMM featured, Mike. I’ve been wanting to post on this since I wrote a reflective piece when he died, but haven’t quite worked out how to do it. Great work man.

    Personally, I appreciate this epic work (though I rarely listen to more than one side at a time, out of care for my wobbly mental health). Did you know there is a transcription version for string ensemble by Zeitkratzler? It is fucking awesome! (Reckon your sis might like it)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unique, yes. Powerful, I’m not sure. That’s not a word that occurred to me. Electrical, yes. Powerful, not too sure. To me it’s about as powerful as the space between radio stations. It’s fascinating and interesting to listen to the sounds and “voices”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. All in the ears, ain’t it? :-)
        If, by the way, you put it on for someone on a gutsy stereo, I reckon they might well experience the power of white noise!
        Having said that, I really like your ‘between radio stations metaphor. If I write on MMM sometime, I’ll be sure to steal that.

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    1. Did The Velvet Underground & Nico win the album of the month vote? If it’s surprising I’m gonna assume it’s positive.

      Unless by surprising you mean you’re going against general critical consensus by saying a classic album is to quote Harrison “doodoo”.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. There’s no doubt that opinions on this one is based on reputation more than anything else. I’m in the camp that admire this one (certainly appreciate it more than enjoy it).

    Anyhoo, I’m away to read your Lulu review (an album I fell pretty hard for last year).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Admire more than enjoy. Me too. I will listen to this about as often as I listen to Mike Patton’s Adult Themes For Voice. Not for enjoyment. More for intellectual stimulation.

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      1. I sort of guessed that you were so kind to it in the review as to not hurt my poor feelings. But I’m glad this is a record you can listen to while reading the newspaper, playing chess, etc. All while in a fancy robe smoking a pipe with a bottle of aged scotch at your side.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Lol when it comes to reviews I try not to think about anybody’s feelings but the listener… in this case I can’t deny there’s something there. Something to this album. I don’t know if I like it but I get it.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Lou once said that anybody that made it to side four was dumber than he was. It feels good to have you in that club with me. Though I doubt he was really being serious. I think Lou loved this baby.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I bought this because of Lester Bangs. I love it for what it is. Do I listen to it often? Of course not. But I know it’s there, lurking in wait in my collection.

    That ‘sunglasses’/5 rating is gonna muck up your spreadsheet averages…

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah exactly. In some perspectives it’s a 1. Listening without a headache might be a challenge. On the other hand it’s a 5 for the sheer daring art of it all.

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        2. Hmmm, I think I would have remembered Metal Machine Music, but…my memory is getting up there too! I do think I would have remembered Metal Machine Music though. You have CD or LP?

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        3. Yeah. Heh. I have a story…kinda funny kinda not. A buddy of mine ordered a giant He-Man playset back in 2019. It’s finally shipping now. And the thing is so huge, and the fees have gone up so high, that the dealer who sold it is now losing thousands on it. All the prices with FedEx are no longer valid and he can’t charge the customers more than they agreed to.

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    1. I sent YouTube link to Harrison for him to preview. He said it was a “cacophony of rubbish”, “abominable”, “a waste of good master tapes”, and that Lou Reed was a “poophead”. I guess it wasn’t his bag either.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, say what you want about Lou, but he was a really smart guy. College educated, sharp in interviews, a good story teller. He was no dummy.

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  5. even I haven’t taken the plunge with MMM and I’m a fan of Lou. Oddly enough my first Lou album was Mistrial. I feel the world is somehow less without Lou and Lemmy. Miss them both. Could u guys point me to likewise characters as them who just hangs tight to their own path.

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    1. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tom Waits after seeing Big Time on TCM recently. Dude never compromised who he was. He’s hilarious, unique, and his music is diverse throughout his career. It was in the ’80s with Swordfishtrombones that he got really experimental. That one, Rain Dogs, and Franks [sic] Wild Years are a great place to start. His early stuff is more singer-songwriter piano based stuff, with some jazzy beatnik poetry to boot. His later work is fantastic too.

      If I had to get you started I’d say watch Big Time (his concert film). It’s free on Amazon Prime right now. As far as albums, Rain Dogs is a classic. That and the two others I mentioned should get you hooked if he’s right for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I managed 2 sides of this at almost full volume once. I was young and dumb. I sold my copy to a mate for 4 pints.

    I always put this one up there with Iggy & The Stooges ‘Metallic KO’ for endurance listens.

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  7. This one’s something else on headphones too. It engulfs you into its sonic world. The whistling tones take on an arpeggiated quality. The low end roars. Worth listening both ways, but I feel like this one’s an atmospheric soundscape journey best heard close up.

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