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6 Music tests Reed's metal

Legendary artist speaks exclusively to 6 Music about Metal Machine Music

  • 20/04/2010
  • Elizabeth Alker
Lou Reed - © Amy-Beth McNeely

Rolling Stone magazine called it the 'tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator' but Lou Reed claimed that his 1975 album Metal Machine Music invented heavy metal. 

Having seen a critical re-evaluation, recent reviews of the album would not only agree with him on that but they'd also say Metal Machine Music was crucial to the birth of punk, grunge and later, trance and techno.

The former Velvet Underground man has now made the decision to re-master and re-release the album, which is a controversial decision, considering the 64 minutes of distortion, white noise and feedback resulted in Reed's label RCA withdrawing it within months of its initial release 35 years ago. Maybe he wanted to iron out some unwanted bleeps and glitches.

It will be available on 180 gram double gatefold vinyl, Audio DVD and Blu-ray and each format features a stereo reproduction of the original quadraphonic master.

To coincide with this release, Reed has been touring with his Metal Machine Trio. They play music inspired by the album and performed at the Royal Festival Hall last night (Monday) before heading to Europe.

Prior to the show, Reed said he would do one interview with the BBC and the roulette of rock and roll determined that 6 Music would be the only radio station in the UK granted an audience.

"You’ve heard of the Metal Machine contracts, which meant if a group was signed there was a thing in their contract saying ‘I will not do anything like Metal Machine Music'"

Lou Reed

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I was told to prepare for the interview like it was an exam because Reed is infamously difficult with journalists.

However, it turns out he is all sweetness and light with 6 Music News journalists and was happy to explain why he has dedicated the majority of his career to controlled feedback, a pursuit that started with the Velvet Underground: "I think it's such a really profound music and I have been in love with this for a very long time."

It was clear when Metal Machine Music was released that Lou Reed wasn't interested in the fame game. He wasn't out to please the music industry or his many fans. The only person he wanted to please was himself.

Thousands of copies of the album were returned by angry fans following its release in 1975 and the experience had a lasting impact on RCA, as Reed explained: "The Metal Machine contracts meant that if a group was signed there was a thing in their contract saying, 'I will not do anything like Metal Machine Music'."

One recent more favourable review described the album as an 'insight into the turbulent spirit of the age' and I asked Reed if he thought this was a fair description: "I'm not a critic," he drawled.

"You could say the opposite of that. You could say Metal Machine Music is dedicated to the proposition of the guitar as the single greatest instrument known to man and it can't get too loud and you don't need a vocalist or a drummer and listen to this feedback isn't that great. A reflection of the glory of rock.

"That's the opposite point of view. Glad you asked?"
Photographs © Amy-Beth McNeely

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