Lou Reed Metal Machine Music: Re-mastered Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A cult classic of challengingly complex sound collages.

John Eyles 2010

Since its release in 1975, Metal Machine Music (MMM) has remained one of the most notorious and misunderstood albums in rock history. Untrue myths have long circulated about it, some based on deliberate disinformation. Suffice to say, Lou Reed did not record it to get out of his RCA contract.

In stark contrast to the popular Reed albums that preceded it, such as Transformer and Berlin, MMM featured no songs or vocals. Instead, the double album contained four sides – each one lasting around 16 minutes – of electric guitars feeding back to create a complex multi-layered sound collage.

On release, the album was almost universally panned by critics. Reed fans expecting more songs in the vein of Perfect Day or Walk on the Wild Side reacted badly to the sound of the new album. Many purchasers returned their copies. MMM was withdrawn within three weeks of its release.

However, those who listened closely to their copy of the record discovered not cacophony but a vibrant new music which combined the sound and energy of rock with elements of contemporary composition by composers like La Monte Young – with whom John Cale had played before joining Reed in The Velvet Underground.

Slowly but steadily, MMM became a cult classic, and its influence grew exponentially. It gave birth to categories such as noise and industrial music, which did not exist in 1975.  Its effects have continued to be felt ever since across the world, most notably in Japan and Germany.

In 2002, the Berlin-based saxophonist Ulrich Krieger transcribed the album to be played by his ten-piece ensemble Zeitkratzer. Lou Reed was so impressed that he joined them for a performance in Berlin. Subsequently, Reed and Krieger formed Metal Machine Trio, which plays live improvised music in the spirit of MMM. 

Reed recently regained the rights to MMM from Sony, and re-mastered it for re-release on his own Sister Ray label. The album has never sounded better. Now that the world has caught up with MMM, hopefully this release will bring it the acclaim it has long deserved.

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