As many people have noted, the most notorious album in rock music history is far less insane now that we have drone [insert subgenre here] music and noise [insert other subgenre here] music. If you listened to much drone or noise music, this will not seem all that shocking. But barely any of it existed in 1975 and the only stuff that did exist was accessible to most people: Reed’s ex-bandmate John Cale had been making drone music (proto drone music?) prior to forming the Velvets with Reed but most of that music had only been heard live, and most of the performances would not be available on record until the 1990s. (And is it as extreme as this?)
Maybe this is a giant “Fuck you” to fans and the industry. Maybe it’s a serious artistic statement. Maybe it’s an elaborate prank to expose posers and snobs as such. It could be all of these things at the same time. It’s one of those works of art that depends as much on what the listener brings to it: if you are not familiar with drone or noise music it will sound unlistenable. (If you heard it in 1975 it probably sounded unlistenable.) But if you have heard anything inspired by this or by the Theatre of Eternal Music/Dream Syndicate (and like that stuff) then you likely find it listenable.
And what cannot be denied is that it is art.
Is it good art, though? I’m really not sure. There is a lot going on if you can pay attention. As others have noticed, there isn’t a lot of dynamic range but there is a lot movement. And there’s a lot of movement especially compared to, say, things like drone metal, where a chord is allowed to ring out for seemingly forever. Not so here.
This is not something I will ever put on for fun. But it did make me think. And it feels like it cannot be ignored, especially given how much drone/noise music has come out in the 45 years since.