Art and culture

Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ Gets Tribute Album

Lou Reed was indisputably one of the most provocative musicians the rock world has known, releasing songs about heroin abuse and sadomasochism on his very first album (“The Velvet Underground and Nico”), utilizing piercing guitar feedback on many of his songs, and scoring a global hit single in 1973 that referenced oral sex (“Walk on the Wild Side”).

But arguably his single most provocative musical move was “Metal Machine Music,” a double-LP filled with nothing but deafening guitar feedback and effects that was released in 1975, at the peak of his commercial success. Taken off the market after just three weeks, it was an unprecedented “career suicide” move that baffled and enraged fans and nearly cost him his record deal (RCA’s president exacted a promise from Reed that he would not do such a thing again, and he remained with the label for another couple of years). However, with the gradual acceptance of noise and ambient music as an art form – to its credit, RCA briefly considered releasing the album on its classical wing, Red Seal – “Metal Machine Music” has aged well and become a landmark for those genres — and audience provocation — and has been the subject of at least one past tribute album (Alejandro Cohen’s “High Velocity” in 2013).

It is about to receive another on May 3 with “Metal Machine Muzak,” a tribute album dubbed “an ambient reimagining” featuring four long-form tracks, each clocking in at 16 minutes and 1 second, by four indie rock luminaries: Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh), Cory Hanson (Wand), W. Cullen Hart (The Olivia Tremor Control) and Mark Robinson (Unrest). 

The album will be available in two different configurations: digital-only or double vinyl plus digital. The double-LP gatefold configuration will be pressed on 180-gram colored vinyl, and is limited to an exclusive numbered run of 300 copies, only 90 of which will be available for purchase online. The album was curated and released by Dave Gebroe, creator and host of the “Discograffiti” podcast. 

“For years now I’ve had the idea for a Hal Willner-esque compilation over which I’m fairly certain Lou might’ve had a chuckle,” Gebroe said, referencing Reed’s longtime friend, co-producer and collaborator. “Or maybe he’d have struck an ornery stance against it…it’s hard to say.  Back in 1975, he released arguably the most demanding and pure distillation of noise imaginable. ‘Metal Machine Music’ still stands as the cornerstone against which all other howls of rage must be stacked.”

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