Nerve-shredding sonic assault

In 1975, Lou Reed was the most dangerously fascinating figure in rock ‘n’ roll.

With his old associates Bowie and Iggy having turned respectively into coked-up plastic soul man and aimless junkie, it was down to the Phantom of Rock to fly the flag for the sleazy, pharmaceutically-fuelled wild side in those timid, pre-punk times of prog excess and limpid singer-songwriters.

Reed hated his downered-out but highly-successful ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ album, but nothing could prepare his fans for the ‘methedrine sound poetry’ of 1975’s ‘Metal Machine Music’; not unless they were familiar with the dissonant drones of fellow Velvet Underground member John Cale’s time with LaMonte Young’s Dream Syndicate showing on early Velvets pure noise excursions like ‘Loop’ and Lou’s scrabbling guitar onslaughts with Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which he continued through the ear-splitting ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ on ‘White Light White Heat’.

Reed had been thinking of further exploring the wonderful world of guitar feedback on an album since hearing LaMonte Young in those early days and was so cheesed off with ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ he set his guitars against the amps in his New York apartment and let fly with unusual tunings and overloading reverb levels, letting the torrential racket vibrate the strings so the guitars seemed to be playing themselves, all captured on a four-track recorder.

‘MMM’ appeared in July 1975 as a double album. On completion, Reed played the results down the phone to a mortified record company exec and said it was his new album. RCA wanted to keep their star happy while releasing the album via its Red Seal classical offshoot, but Reed deemed that elitist, insisting ‘MMM’ was released on the main label with a ‘Listen First’ warning on the sleeve, which eventually translated into a small line about the record featuring electronic instrumental music.

Being a big fan of both Lou and rampant feedback, this writer willingly forked out on the day of release for what was essentially four sides of coruscating, nerve-shredding sonic assault; ultimate provocation to many but, underneath everything, Lou in the raw and right back in the uncompromising spirit of the original Velvet Underground.

Many critics dismissed the album as a giant ‘fuck you’ from a man not known for polite conversation (but renowned for disdain of journalists). There were thousands of cases of fans buying ‘MMM’ then returning it in horror. Reed was unrepentant, declaring, “The worse the albums were the more they sold, so I decided to put a stop to it, and ‘Metal Machine Music’ was my first and last sentence.”

Now it’s time for ‘MMM’ to surface again, Reed having remastered it for double gatefold vinyl, audio DVD and Blu-ray. Also released is ‘The Creation Of The Universe’ by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Trio, which features the man handling guitars and electrics alongside Ulrich Krieger (tenor sax, live electronics) and Sarth Calhoun (live processing, continuum fingerboard), taking ‘MMM’’s original compositional ethic to spectacular new heights.

Words by Kris Needs

Lou Reed - ‘Metal Machine Music’
Released: July 1975
Producer: Lou Reed

Side one
1. ‘Metal Machine Music, Part 1’
Side two
1. ‘Metal Machine Music, Part 2’
Side three
1. ‘Metal Machine Music, Part
Side four
1. ‘Metal Machine Music, Part 4’

1975: In The News
- Bill Gates founds Microsoft.
- Following pub bombings in the city, the ‘Birmingham Six’ are wrongly jailed. They were released and pardoned in 1991.
- The White Stripes’ Jack White is born.

1975: The Albums
Rod Stewart - ‘Atlantic Crossing’
Patti Smith - ‘Horses”
David Bowie - ‘Young Americans’

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