Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music

Given his reputation as a big jerk, it's frequently impossible to determine Lou Reed's genuine motivations. Even so, Metal Machine Music remains particularly enigmatic 25 years after its release. A double-LP set of layered, chiming, creaking, and humming guitar feedback, the album instantly raised a number of accusations that still resonate, much to the frustration of fans, detractors, and perhaps even Reed himself. The release of an unlikely anniversary-positioned reissue marks as good a time as any to address a handful of long-standing accusations, one at a time. 1) Metal Machine Music was Lou Reed's big "fuck you" to his record label. Certainly, coming after the commercial Sally Can't Dance, the disc came as a shock to RCA, and Metal Machine Music's unmarketable qualities support this claim. 2) Metal Machine Music was Lou Reed's big "fuck you" to his fans. That's more subjective, but since Reed has never expressed any great love for his admirers, the answer remains too nebulous to determine. 3) Metal Machine Music was the birth of punk. Ridiculous. 4) "The greatest album ever made in the history of the human eardrum," wrote gonzo critic Lester Bangs. The grain-of-salt statement speaks for itself. 5) Metal Machine Music's roots lie in 20th-century composers such as La Monte Young, Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis. Here's where Reed appears to have had the last laugh, or at least the last "fuck you." Back when he dropped such heady names, Reed seemed the pinnacle of pretension, but 25 years later, he sounds oddly prescient. After all, fellow Velvet Undergrounder John Cale used to play with Young, and if he can be allowed to harbor an avant-garde dispensation, so should Reed. Besides, the notion of noise as music continues unabated in the work of Sonic Youth, Merzbow, and many other amp terrorists. Maybe Metal Machine Music was a big joke after all, but that doesn't make it any less revolutionary, and modern ears may even be better conditioned to listen to his racket. Don't be surprised if, in 25 more years, the album has aged better than Reed's New York.


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