Lou Reed, who would have turned 74 last week, has a discography that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the iconic solo-songwriters — The Velvet Underground’s debut alone is one of the most influential records in any genre, but then he kept doing it for 50 years after. In the middle of the 1970s, his most prolific period, he put out one release that confounds listeners even to this day.
On the heels of Sally Can’t Dance, Reed’s most successful album by that point, he was burnt out, disappointed in the final product and more detached from his own music than ever before. The solution, apparently, was to go so hard in the opposite direction stylistically that it’s still argued whether Metal Machine Music even gets to count as music.
True to its title, Metal Machine Music is harsh, unfeeling and unkind; it’s an hour’s worth of guitar feedback and little else. People can’t really tell if it should be considered noise, a sarcastic joke or an insult to the record company (and in all likelihood, it’s probably all three) if that gives you any indication of how this sounds.
For my money, I actually don’t think it’s that bad a release, just different. Sure, most people prefer things like “melody” or “composition” or “actually being a song,” but what Metal Machine Music lacks in any of those categories, it makes up for with being so bizarre by its time’s standards that you can’t help but pay attention. Sure, it can be a little unpleasant, but if we can get to used to elevator muzak, why not this?