Twenty-five years ago, Lou Reed ignored conventional musicality and dared fans to endure one hour of bloodcurdling feedback noise on Metal Machine Music. The album became a cult favorite and Buddha Records just released an anniversary edition. ”We think it’s beautiful,” says Buddha exec Alex Miller. ”You either love it or you hate it and lots of people love it.” Reed was not alone in sacrificing melodious tuneage at art’s altar. Here’s a guide to noisy odes, sublime and absurd.
— Evan Serpick
METAL MACHINE MUSIC Lou Reed
DESCRIPTION Four unbroken tracks of machine-generated squawks and whistles
WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”Realism was the key,” wrote Reed in the liner notes.
WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”Here’s another damn album!”
LENGTH 63 min., 31 sec.
LISTENABLE LENGTH Two minutes: one to hear the nuances, another to realize there won’t be any new ones
”YOU SUFFER” (off Scum) Napalm Death
DESCRIPTION A cough and a few drumbeats, clocking in at just under one second
WHAT THEY MEANT TO CONVEY ”Manic nirvana,” per the album packaging
WHAT THEY DID CONVEY ”I’m choking!”
LENGTH 0.75 sec.
LISTENABLE LENGTH 0.75 seconds; even if you wanted to, it would be difficult to cut it short.
”WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH” (off Weasels Ripped My Flesh) Frank Zappa
DESCRIPTION Atonal organ mush from a live concert in Birmingham, England
WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”We’re weird.”
WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”We’re weird.”
LENGTH 2 min., 7 sec.
LISTENABLE LENGTH Buoyed by crowd cheers, unimpaired fans might get through a minute.
ASCENSION John Coltrane
DESCRIPTION Unstructured, chordless jazz on acid
WHAT HE MEANT TO CONVEY ”Abandonment of all jazz traditions” say the liner notes.
WHAT HE DID CONVEY ”This is fun.”
LENGTH 79 min., 27 sec.
LISTENABLE LENGTH 79 minutes, 27 seconds. Varied, with a sense of adventure. Still, this ain’t easy listening.
HEART OF A WOMAN Kathie Lee Gifford
DESCRIPTION Twelve sappy, wince-inducing tracks from Reege’s ex-partner
WHAT SHE MEANT TO CONVEY ”I can sing!”
WHAT SHE DID CONVEY ”I can’t sing at all!”
LENGTH 47 min., 41 sec.
LISTENABLE LENGTH As long as it takes to lunge for the stop button