Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music (1975)

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On its release, it was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine as sounding like “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” and as displeasing to experience as “a night in a bus terminal”. In the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide, critic Billy Altman said it was “a two-disc set consisting of nothing more than ear-wrecking electronic sludge, guaranteed to clear any room of humans in record time.” However, the first issue of the seminal New York zine Punk, placed Reed and the album on its inaugural 1976 issue, presaging the advent of both punk and the discordance of the New York No Wave scene. To quote critic Victor Bockris, Reed’s recording can be understood as “the ultimate conceptual punk album and the progenitor of New York punk rock.” The album was ranked number two in the 1991 book The Worst Rock ‘n’ Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell. The book gives sympathy to legendary record cutting engineer Bob Ludwig for having to listen to the album in its entirety. (In fact, according to the liner notes of the 2000 reissue of the album, Ludwig was “totally into what Lou was doing” and compared the work to that of avant-garde classical composers Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen.) In 2005, Q magazine included the album in a list of “Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists”, and it ranked number four in Q’s fifty worst albums of all time list. It was again featured in Q magazine in December 2010 for the “Top Ten Career Suicides” list, where it came eighth overall. The Trouser Press Record Guide referred to it as “four sides of unlistenable oscillator noise,” parenthetically calling that assessment “a description, not a value judgment.” Probably the most sympathetic appraisal of Metal Machine Music was given by rock critic Lester Bangs, who wrote that “as classical music it adds nothing to a genre that may well be depleted. As rock ‘n’ roll it’s interesting garage electronic rock ‘n’ roll. As a statement it’s great, as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity—a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity, but integrity nevertheless.” Bangs later wrote a tongue-in-cheek article on Metal Machine Music titled “The Greatest Album Ever Made”, in which he judged it “the greatest record ever made in the history of the human eardrum.”

[Dedicated to Lars Top-Galia]

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