Written by: Stephen Kondracki, Special to CC2K
It's been called a joke, assumed to be a sarcastic fulfillment of contractual obligations, and purportedly recorded while the artist was stoned. Whatever you call it, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music is famous for the fact that almost no one can listen to it all the way through. What a great choice then for April Fools' Week! Stephen Kondracki was the unlucky recipient, and he abandoned his journalistic integrity in favor of stream-of-consciousness.
A word from the nominator Russell Davidson:
I picked Metal Machine Music because it's notorious, and very few people have actually listened to the whole thing through. Personally, I get about four minutes in before I have to shut it off. So here I am, in a position to get some poor sap to HAVE to play it in it's entirety…April Fools, for sure! There's also an interesting story behind it: it's considered the most "avant-garde" (or just plain horrible) release EVER from a major artist. Remember, Lou Reed was quite popular when he put this out. Some call it the first "punk" album (1975) in that it played by its own rules, damn the consequences. It's also been said that Lou put it out to fulfill a record contract, and this completely un-commercial release was his way of giving it to the label. Hell, even Lou himself has claimed both things, and hey, maybe it IS both things….one thing it's not, however, is listenable. Good luck, Stephen!
My Review of Metal Machine Music
By Stephen Kondracki
So it’s been a while since I wrote a music review for CC2K. I was assigned to review this piece by one of the editors, with the understanding that there was to be a “Forgotten Classics” theme week in the beginning of April. I like Lou Reed, and I had never heard this album, so I thought, Perfect, a most opportune time to hone my “stream of consciousness” review style.
The process consists of the following: adequate, verifiable research of the artist’s history and work prior to the album’s release; one initial listen to the album, with copious verbal notes recorded during playback; and 2-3 subsequent listens while outlining and drafting the text of the review. The review style itself relies heavily on phrases that spontaneously occur throughout the initial listen, so the verbal notes are the key to the process. The essence of that first impression should be preserved, regardless of any secondary opinions that might arise. I find this method to be accurately representative of a potential listener’s first impression of an album.
Generally speaking, this is not how I normally write my reviews. I usually try to accumulate 2-3 thorough listens before beginning an outline, then write a cohesive overall impression of the album, with random interjections of journalistic factual material (to take up space and sound professional, of course). However, in this case, I ended up having to abandon any semblance of a process altogether. In fact, I believe that the unabridged transcriptions of my verbal notes, recorded on a Clinton-era Talkboy, are the best way to truly convey what it is like to listen to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music for the first time.
Note: the full effect of these notes can only be experienced by reading them aloud in a mild British accent, because that is how I speak when I need to sound intelligent.
-Beginning review of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Released July 1975. RCA Records.
-Seven seconds in, utter silence.
-Nineteen seconds in, still utter silence. Interesting.
-Oh. Speaker wire disconnected, explains lack of sound, restarting album.
-Holy shit. That was loud, had the volume all the way up.
-Okay, this is really odd to begin with. Some guitar feedback. A lot of feedback…and some other sounds…sort of reminds me of that part in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Note-to-self: find out if George Martin was involved in the production of this album.
-Three minutes and four seconds in, still lots of industrial noise.
-Christ, this better turn into a real song.
-[Sigh] Well, track one seems to consist entirely of multi-layered, multi-pitched, angry robotic…chirping. Yes, chirping I think is the word I would use. And some other…stuff.
-The sound actually imposes legitimate physical pain on the inner ear.
Note: I accidentally recorded the next 2 minutes and 14 seconds on the Talkboy’s “slow” setting, and played it back on the “normal” setting, so please read the following section aloud, very fast, on helium if possible.
–Hi, yeah, I’d like to place an order for delivery. The address is **** Fifty-Eighth Street, apartment three.
-Yeah, apartment three.
-Yeah, can I get the Chicken Caesar Wrap, and do you have any of those roasted red peppers?
-Yeah, can you throw some of those on there too?
-And, yeah, can you hold on a second?
-Dude, what did you want?
Distant voice, unintelligible.
-Ok, yeah, and a chicken parm hero, only instead of marinara sauce, can I get pesto sauce?
-No, instead of marinara.
-Ok. Thanks. Bye.
-Yeah dude, that guy is gonna fuck up our order so bad.
Note: Resume at normal speed.
–Sixteen minutes in, track two begins almost identically to track one.
-I comprehend the likeness of the album title with the content of the album, but I was expecting there to be more “music” and less “metal machine.”
-I wouldn’t even say “metal,” I’d give it “aluminum foil” at best. And more “noise” than “music” really.
-Album thus far reeks of overindulgent, counter-creative, avant-garde pretentiousness.
-Although unwavering and repetitive, I think I am beginning to hear underlying sounds.
-I think there’s a voice.
-Yes, perhaps this is brilliant after all…for anyone who has ever made it this far into the record.
-There is definitely a voice buried deep within this raucous mess. It is inquisitive and haunting and it is getting louder!
-But what does it say?!
-I can almost make it out…
Distant voice, unintelligible.
Note: To maintain transcription accuracy, terminate British accent.
Several distant voices, unintelligible, throughout the remainder of verbal notes.
-No it’s some Lou Reed album I’m supposed to write a review of. I think I downloaded the wrong thing.
-…Oh this thing?
-…Haha yeah. You like it?
-…Yup, from Home Alone 2…hahahaha “Hi kids, we’re home early!”
-Fuck, man, this is horrible. I’m supposed to listen to this whole album.
-…Yeah I could do that. I dunno. What if there’s, like, an actual song in there somewhere? They’ll know I didn’t listen to it.
-…Oh good idea. I fuckin’ love Wikipedia, it’s like an auxiliary brain.
-…Okay, yeah, this is some sort of a joke I think. I guess he just did it to fuck with everyone.
-…Right now? Okay I’ll be there in a second.
Note: the next 23 minutes are void of notes.
-Hahaha. Yo, this album is still going.
-I don’t know, it’s ridiculous. It’s all the same shit; just this crazy feedback and trippy squealing and screeching noises. It’s kinda freekin’ me out.
-Is that kicked?
-Alright, I can’t do this. I have to shut this off.
-Sweet. Food’s here.
End of Verbal Notes.
I am inclined to consider the experiment a success. But in the interest of pseudo-science, I would like to hear from you, the reader, to find out if you concur with my representation of a listener’s first impression. Please listen to this album and promptly transcribe your own verbal notes. There will be subtle differences of course. Some of you may opt for the Buffalo Chicken Wrap instead of the Chicken Caesar. Others will quote a different line from Home Alone 2. But essentially, I think our thoughts will align and perhaps, together, we can apply this method to that John and Yoko album where they just scream a lot.
Also, in hindsight, I suspect a preemptive April Fool’s joke, although I can’t be sure. I concede to you, editors of CC2K, if this is indeed the case. Well done. Was this because I never got you that Foo Fighters review on time? Consider the lesson learned. The last laugh is mine, however, because I have already sabotaged my recommendation for the “Forgotten Classic” movie reviews. I may have had to endure an hour of listening to Robocop’s intestines through a stethoscope, but at least some poor schmuck is going to waste unknown hours trying to figure out what the hell “Quellish” means.