Inspired by the combination of some truly awful records and a recurring feature on Videogum, editor Joe Puglisi proves that even criminally awful albums can inspire us... to seek out which of them is the worst.
Art, and more specifically, music, tends to fall into the "subjective" category when we're trying to apply descriptions; "mind-blowing", "life-changing", or "like spending the night in a bus terminal" for example. One man's Herb Albert is another man's Radiohead. (And I don't know who that man is, but yikes.) One thing is for sure, the truly awful music is always bad unless it's ironic, and even then it's bad because hipsters.
I think the problem is this: at some point it became acceptable to just do weird sh*t and call it art. See Yoko Ono. If I scream in a museum, is it art? See Duchamp. If I take this toilet seat and label it "fountain", is it art? Maybe. We're not here to make value judgements on certain questionable exhibits at the MoMA.
In terms of recordings, very few famous and well-established musicians dared to really mess with the boundaries of "music" with an hour of music that a two-year old could accidentally create given the keys to a studio, a cheap electric guitar, and an amplifier. Yeah, we're talking about Metal Machine Music
Let's forget that the cover looks like a bad screenshot from a 1980s Nintendo game about motorcycle pirates.
Just so we're all clear, Lou Reed made pretty normal music before this, and after this. Even Berlin
, a tragic rock opera he created that was critically panned, had its redeeming qualities. Sure he hung out with Warhol and had Bowie as a producer, but still. It wasn't like he was always a little post-modern pyscho just waiting to mess with us by recording someone yelling racial epithets and calling it a period piece. No, he was a normal rock dude with a normal rock following who once fronted a little band called the Velvet Underground. And with this album, he basically broke up with us over Facebook chat.
Metal Machine Music
, originally released in 1975, is approximately sixty minutes of guitar feedback, mixed at various levels by Lou Reed, split into four parts. That's it. What you heard above, for sixty minutes. No, it's not a sub-plot from a Christopher Guest movie. Back in the day, when listening to the record for the first time, people thought their vinyl was defective. Today, we'd probably be waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out with a shit-eating grin and give us another copy of "Walk On The Wild Side". But Reed seems to think this is a masterpiece, and many experts credit it as being the grandfather of the 'industrial' genre, like the kind made by Oscar Award winner Trent Reznor. It reminds me of the time I went to Joe's Pub to see Lou Reed, only to discover he wasn't performing anything but slam poetry. COME ON.
When one of the several interpretations by fans of your record is "elaborate joke on the record label to get out of a contract", you know you might have messed up a little. Listening to it is straight up torture. There isn't even anything to say about it other than "huh?" and "ouch, my cochlea". At least "Who Let The Dogs Out" still has a place at tacky bat mitzvahs. At least Hulk Hogan's solo would make any relatively sane person giggle in delight. Metal Machine Music
is like listening to baby robots crying for an hour for no reason.
Even framing Metal Machine Music
doesn't help. If we consider this album to be rock n' roll or any of its derivatives, this record is barely more than a punchline. As classical music, it's nothing new in the grand deconstruction of things; it might as well be Beethoven's Fifth arranged for that child's toy that you spin and it makes barnyard animal noises.
Is this the worst record of all time? SOLID MAYBS. It's certainly the strongest candidate so far, and we've covered Kevin Federline AND an album of dental advice from a famous boxer, so that's saying a lot.
NEXT TIME: I don't know, ever since listening to this I can't stop having this nightmare where something is trying to microwave me. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?