Lou Reed's
Metal Machine Music

There seems little point in reviewing the worst record of all time, unless we are to entertain the positive aspects of bad music. As ridiculous as this sounds, the problem of worthless compositions cannot be ignored, as the genre has long been dominant in the marketplace. Separating his garbage from the common sort, Lou Reed was obviously aware of the miserable quality of Metal Machine Music, so listeners will tend to view it as a descendant of the sixties avant-garde--a musical cousin of Andy Warhol's paintings. Here, the artist's view of the world attaches itself to his work, so that his presence lurks over the shoulder of any responsive audience.

The original album Metal Machine Music, released in 1975, contains about an hour of monotonous guitar feedback, just long enough to justify a double-LP release, and the fourth side concludes in an endless loop. All in all, the album is a monumental slap in the face for a public trained to purchase anything with a proven artist's name on the cover. The feedback presents a uniform tension that is maintained throughout the composition. In a sense, this lack of direction allies the album with "ambient music" (cf. Brian Eno's Discreet Music from the same year), but it exudes a persistence that refuses to fade into the environment. The auditory peculiarities born of the feedback mold a non-rhythmic texture that can be distantly reminiscent of the damned wailing their laments in hell.

For me, it's impossible to become lost in this album, to lose track of how much time is left to endure of its torture. Listening to Metal Machine Music may induce daydreams, but its music is also a temporal imposition. This pointed awareness of raw, dissipating time is absent in the performance of any legitimate musical composition, but is unfortunately dulled in the performance of more ordinary musical refuse. Three stars and a shimmering "aaaaaaaaaaaah" for an uncommon glance at the transience of life, at the ridiculous urgency of mortality.

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