Lou Reed

Metal Machine Music (Buddha Original Masters Series)

We who labor under the auspices of the music desk at this here urban newsweekly have only your best interests at heart, and may God or Lilith or Zoaraster whap us with a bolt of lightning in the spleen if this isn't the strict, unvarnished truth. We humbly consider ourselves not the last word on musical quality, but rather the first line of defense on your behalf. Regarding (what we consider to be) good music, we want only that you should be informed of its merits, that you may make your own determinations from an informed standpoint. Of (what strikes us as) silly or inconsequential or just plain bad music, we want you to be warned in advance, in order that you may spend your entertainment dollars on those artifacts that might bring you more lasting pleasures.

But it ain't all brickbats and hosannas, kids. Some of what we do in these pages falls under the heading of "consumer advocacy" rather than "essays of opinion." And so, when we learned that Buddha Records was going to release Lou Reed's 1975 Metal Machine Music on CD, for the very first time in the States, in a 25th-anniversary, deluxe-packaged, limited-and-numbered edition as part of its Original Masters Series, we knew you'd want us to go and ferret out the details underlying this phenomenon so as you might venture into your local muzik shoppe in an educated state of mind, vis-à-vis its relevance to your personal record collection.

See, here's the --

(Wait. This article presupposes advance knowledge of The Thing itself, which is a dangerous tack to take in an increasingly solipsistic and amnesiac society. Meaning no disrespect, but if some of the young'uns among you have come this far without knowing anything about Metal Machine Music beyond a vague awareness that it exists, dear Lester Bangs summed it up nicely for us in a contemporary article in Creem magazine: ". . . what we have here is a one-hour, two-record set of nothing, absolutely nothing but screaming feedback noise recorded at various frequencies, played back against various other noise layers, split down the middle into two totally separate channels of utterly inhuman shrieks and hisses . . ." Okay? Nothin' but. For an hour plus, in fact, but we'll get to that below. Back to our originally scheduled public service.)

See, here's the thing. Among music junkies, same as junkies of every other stripe, there are those of us who will never be satisfied until we experience a thing for ourselves, no matter how many sensible people say it's worthless, it's stupid, or it'll kill you in the end. Vinyl copies of MMM being understandably difficult to come by, the easiest way to procure a copy, assuming you wanted to hear it for yourself and none of your speed-freak friends owned it, was as an import CD released through Hamburg-based BMG Ariola. However, that disc wasn't especially easy to find, and it was even more difficult to find someone who already owned it and was willing to lend it out, MMM fans being a generally paranoid and mistrustful lot. Moreover, there were several problems with MMM's German import release, not the least of which was the omission of several key elements from the original packaging.

But no more, Dear Reader. In the event that you've been waiting for this moment, be advised that you now have a more complete, fully domestic alternative, should you wish to add this meisterwerk to your personal library. And in the spirit of nostalgia, consumer advocacy, competitive enterprise and the free market, we herewith offer a handy clip-'n'-save consumer report regarding why Buddha's Original Masters Series edition of MMM (hereafter, the BOMS-MMM) is a far, far superior version of this entry from Reed's canon to the German import, formerly your best option.

1. Deluxe packaging: A holograph slipcase with faux corner-protective metal widgets, limited-edition embossed numbering, and duplication of the original cover complete with molecular illustrations, medical disclaimers and RCA Master Reference tag make the BOMS-MMM a stately addition to your music shelf. This is historical refurbishing at its most painstaking.

2. Longer running time:The BOMS-MMM runs to 64 minutes and 11 seconds, which beats the German import by 1 minute, 50 seconds. What's that? Well, sure, it's only a minute and 50 seconds of blip, screech and squall; but dig, can you appreciate that this added time comprises a . . .

3. Replication of side four's locked groove: MMM's original vinyl pressing featured a locked inner groove on side four, so that anyone who made it to the end (!) would have to get up, walk across the room and physically remove the needle from the record if he wanted it to stop. Otherwise, the moronic thing would just keep playing and playing and playing until the neighbors shot your stereo through the open bedroom window, or the cops broke down your door and found your cold, dead body. With a CD, of course, that effect is impossible to reproduce (and on eight-track, the album simply loops, which is its own torture); but the BOMS-MMM delivers more than two minutes of that locked-groove section at the end of track four, for the first time anywhere since the original vinyl release. Bravo!

4. Inclusion of "Hardware Specifications" and Reed's original liner notes: Which material constitutes a whole 'nother thing of beauty, completely absent from the import disc. Scatterbrained, dithyrambic, tension-fueled, and in large sections completely incomprehensible, the BOMS-MMM presents these important drug-era documents intact, in their original form.

The extensive hardware specs on the back cover ("Marantz Amps/Altec Voice of America Monitor Speakers/Sennheiser Headphones") are completely bogus -- to create MMM, Reed set up two guitars and two amplifiers, let everything feed back and recorded it on four-track -- and occasionally they're nothing more than an in-joke warning concerning the album's contents ("Drone cognizance and harmonic possibilities vis a vis Lamont [sic] Young's Dream Music/Rock orientation, melodically disguised, i.e. drag"). But Reed's woozy liner notes, complete with random punctuation and capitalizations and borne along on wings of vicious egotism, are the real joy: "This record is not for parties/dancing/background, romance [sic]. . . . No one I know has listened to it all the way through including myself. . . . Most of you won't like this, and I don't blame you at all. It's not meant for you. At the very least I made it so that I had something to listen to. Certainly Misunderstood: Power to Consume (how Bathetic). . . . For that matter, off the record, I love and adore it. I'm sorry, but not especially, if it turns you off. . . . I'd harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest [sic, again] rock. I was, perhaps, wrong. This is the reason Sally Can't Dance [sic, a third time] -- your Rock n Roll Animal. More than a decent try, but hard for us to do badly. Wrong media. . . . My week beats your year." See? And like that. It's been years, actual years since Reed's shown this much personality. Don't it take you back?

5. David Fricke's essay: God love David Fricke, the People's Rock Critic. Neither as erudite as Greil Marcus nor as esoteric as Richard Meltzer, and nowhere near as snooty as Robert Christgau, Fricke here plays devil's advocate and presents a studied 12-page reevaluation of MMM on the occasion of its quarter-century mark, proceeding from the assumption that the album (1) exists precisely and exactly as Reed intended it, (2) was conceived not as a mean-spirited "fuck you," but as a valid artistic project, and (3) predicted punk, post-punk, hip-hop, electronica, industrial rock, techno, and avant-garde metal. Who knows what kind of Faustian deal he had to strike in order to land this gig, but his soapbox allows (forces?) Fricke to pen such judgments as "MMM makes more sense with each passing pop-music era"; ". . . folded into MMM's elephantine bellow was rich historical precedent"; "To truly love MMM, you have to learn to laugh with it"; and my favorite, "MMM was not a new kind of rock; it was every kind of rock, boiled down to its molten essence." Did you know that? Of course you didn't.

6. Digital remastering: Hee, hee -- It's right there in the production notes -- ha, ha -- "Digitally Remastered by Bob Ludwig" -- hoo, hoo . . . mff . . . snrk -- BWAH-HA-HA-Ha-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh . . . oh, God, I'm sorry . . . (sniff, choke) . . . How awful. How absolutely cynical. Hang on, gimme a second . . . (pant, pant, gasp) Whew. Okay. I'm fine.

7. It's louder: Which is the kicker. I had a friend once who replaced his scratchy vinyl copy of Never Mind the Bollocks with the CD version, but only after fretting about it for a while, wondering whether he could justify wanting the sonic fidelity of that particular medium for that particular release. But trust me when I tell you that MMM is an album you want to own in the loudest version possible, or owning it simply doesn't make any damn sense. On this score, the inferior German import version is to the BOMS-MMM as hesitation cuts are to full-bore wrist-slashes.

Trust me. I just had a nice lady from a market research firm call me as I was writing this. She wanted to ask me about my musical preferences, and I just held the phone up to the speakers. Put it back to my head after 10 seconds. Dead line. True story.

Talk about consumer advocacy: I'm going to keep the disc cued up to track four, at 13 minutes and 23 seconds, for when the credit-card people call.

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