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Ambient for Rock Fans
on September 9, 2003
You'll read many reviews here dismissing MMM as an elaborate joke Lou pulled on pretentious posers salivating over the implicate 'art' value of the atonal noise that encompasses the recording's 60+ minutes. Hell, if it's 'difficult', it's gotta be 'art', right? Haw haw haw... what a character, that Lou. Kudos for ripping off a bunch of morons by releasing the first coffee table record: an unlistenable conversation piece for decadent trendies. Right? RIGHT?
If it were only that simple, to live in such a simpleton world. But anyone with a clue can easily figure out why MMM matters. If your aesthetic already included things such as Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and so on, this made perfect sense in context, as ambient music for people with noise-attuned ears (much like Eno's ambient does the same for those with pop-attuned ears). Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you want to hear something inspired by a malfunctioning record player set at a near-inaudible level in a hospital room (Eno) and sometimes you need a sound inspired by something a bit more substantial (Reed).
Of course, to those who don't share the above aesthetic, MMM simply means that you paid X amount of dollars to own and listen to what sounds like a bunch of guitars and amps being thrown down a very long flight of stairs, or (as someone said back when this was first issued), 'the soundtrack of someone being administered electro-shock therapy for an hour'. Perhaps... but those reviewers mincing and squealing about how this is such a 'rip-off' probably don't see much in Pollock but a bunch of splattered paint, or get a headache from trying to read "Finnegan's Wake". Try to be charitable to them, even if they ARE clue-impaired to the point that they are obviously resentful of what they just can't understand.
Truth is, we still ended up with Throbbing Gristle (who toned down the foreground treble and added somewhat of a beat and 'lyrical content' to the concept), Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Department (who added everyday appliances to the mix, amped up the rhythmic aspects considerably, and re-incorporated a semblance of song structure) and Boyd Rice/Frank Tovey's EASY LISTENING FOR THE HARD OF HEARING (which dispenses with anything involving traditional instruments, and employs record player cartridges, tape snippets, and found sounds to create what are truly metal machine instrumental pop songs), just to name a few that emerged thereafter MMM hit the fans.
Would these things have happened without MMM being released? Is MMM truly valid as a retail item from an established singer/songwriter recording for the fine RCA label, or could any speed freak with enough time and equipment put this together? Does the fact that Lou already did it make that last point somewhat irrelevant? Is MMM the 'root' of 'industrial' music? Does Lou owe props to Ussachevsky and Luening, who were making similar noises in the early 50's? If so, is MMM Lou's 'musique concrete' album?
Whatever. Opinions are like the nether aperture: everyone's got one, and they all stink if you get right down to it. So I'll take MMM as Lou's attempt at noise-friendly ambient music, ideal shifting audio wallpaper that hangs around while I do everyday chores around the house. It's useful, it's utilitarian. It serves a purpose. And I, for one, am glad that it happened.