# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous -

  by Jon Rogers

published: 12 / 2 / 2007

Miscellaneous -


Jon Rogers devotes a day listening to some of the most unlistenable albums of all time including albums by Lou Reed, Royal Trux, John Lennon and Yoko Ono

It seemed a good idea at the time but now I’m not so sure. In fact, just what have I let myself in for? In a rash of masochistic frenzy I set myself the task of testing my ears and mental state by seeing just how long I can endure listening to some of the most unlistenable albums ever commercially released. At first it seemed like quite a good idea of how to spend a lazy day. You could spend all day slobbing about the flat under the pretence of doing something constructive when in reality all you’re doing is listening to music and drinking coffee. What could be better on a cold day? Well, considering the music I’ve chosen, probably root canal dentistry work without anesthetic - with model Naomi Campbell’s album 'Baby Woman' at ear-piercing level to drown out the screams - is probably better. Oddly my girlfriend has decided to spend the day with friends so it’s just myself and my faithful cat, although I fear he won’t be sticking around for long either. I would like to think that I can appreciate the avant-garde in music and have various recordings from the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage as well as free jazz improvisers like Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman tucked away in my collection. But the one’s I’ve chosen really take the biscuit: Lou Reed’s 'Metal Machine Music'. Tick. Yoko Ono using primal scream therapy as a form of singing. Tick. Drugged up stoner rock that takes La Monte Young’s minimalist ideas to the extreme. Er, tick. Lucky for me, too, that a few people from Pennyblackmusic and friends also impart their wisdom and add a few other recordings into the melting pot. Er, thanks – I think. In the great tradition of madcap scientists who used themselves as guinea pigs to try out their inventions I was interested to see what effects this music would have on me over a long period of time – and to see just how much of this I can take before I crack up (if at all). And with any experiment, preparation is everything. In the interests of good relations I considered the idea of telling the neighbours just to foreworn them but realised just how stupid that would make me look: I’m going to be deliberately playing some of the most awful records ever made at loud volume. The men in white coats would be round faster than you can say John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 'Wedding Album'. To keep my strength up I’ve had a decent breakfast and slurped a couple of strong coffees. Seeing as I intend to be here for some time I’ve got a nice comfy armchair to sit in and a pad and pen to note anything down. My pulse is normal and if things get hairy I’ve got some herbal sedatives to hand. And I’m surrounded by a collection of records and CDs (some were in need of a good dusting) that really do stretch the definition of the word music. If, as Shakespeare said, music is the food of love, then these must surely be the equivalent of its divorce papers. And then I’m struck by the first thought without even having played a note. You’re never going to win over the object of your affection with this music. Imagine the scene, you’ve had a very lovely evening with this new person you’ve met but you’re still getting to know them. Everything’s gone well so far and you’ve accepted that invitation for a cup of coffee. You’re settling down on the settee while your host selects some music. Now, what will it be? A bit of Otis Redding? Nah. Barry White, even? Too obvious. Frank Sinatra should do it. But wait… Ah yes, The Butthole Surfers’ third album, 'Locust Abortion Technician'… with its mix of warped tape loops, Black Sabbath-style riffs and plenty of feedback. Hey, where’d they go? Well, let’s get this party started… First to get an airing is Lou Reed’s famous (or should that be infamous?) 1975 outing 'Metal Machine Music'. Whether or not the 64-minute album is one colossal joke, a big “fuck you” to Reed's then record label RCA as a contractual obligation or a stunning example of arte-concrete noise music it certainly is hard going. It basically consists of the feedback from two electric guitars having been fed through mismatched tremolo units then sped up, slowed down and endlessly layered. It’s a cacophonous screech of torment as if coming directly from the inner circle of Dante’s 'Inferno'. Q magazine in its 50 Worst Records of All Time, described it as “sadistic, blackboard-scraping feedback”. Which sounds like a recommendation, if you ask me. My cat lasts approximately four minutes all curled up on the sofa before deciding enough is enough and making a sharp exit. He’s not impressed by the relentless guitar feedback and machine noise. I find it all strangely hypnotic and rather captivating. Like watching the flames in the fire, it’s always the same but constantly changing. And it sounds even better with the volume turned way up. That wasn’t so bad at all. This might not be as difficult as I thought. There’s no need for a pit stop so it’s straight on with the next choice. The Royal Trux’s sprawling double album, 'Twin Infinitives', from 1990 seems like an obvious choice. Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema had a love of bands like 70's era Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones as well as heroin. The result was this epic mess of improvised noise, anti-rock and monotonous vocals. It draws on the likes of rock just as much as free jazz and then completely destroys those notions with a sledgehammer. Possibly due to their drug dependency there’s the constant sense of songs breaking down or collapsing. Like a small child mesmerised by an array of presents in front of them, they won’t know which toy to play with first and so will pick up one for a few minutes before moving on to the next one that has caught their eye. 'Twin Infinitives' flits about with no discernable structure. Just when you think ideas are starting to come together, off it goes at some warped angle. For a lot of the time though it’s just a treacle-thick mess of noise and nonchalant vocals meandering aimlessly about with no direction home. A lot of the time it sounds like there are three songs going on at once. The worst sort of stoner rock; for those too wasted to open their eyelids. It possibly makes far more sense if you’re off your face on illegal narcotics but that would probably be a waste of the drugs. My cat is noticeable by his absence. Eventually 'Twin Infinitives' finally comes to an end. It can’t be utterly dismissed out of hand as it does have its moments but all too often it sounds like the soundtrack to a film directed by the drug-crazed offspring of Eraserhead’s baby. Two albums down and I’m certainly feeling that bit edgier. My pulse appears to have risen marginally and I can feel the early signs of a headache developing. Just in case I’m dehydrated I down a couple of glasses of water and prepare for the next dose of musical terror. Although nothing, but nothing can really prepare you for the likes of Yoko Ono’s primal scream-influenced shrieking. Oh no. In the early 70's the ideas of Dr Arthur Janov were all the rage, particularly amongst the in crowd, who devoured his book 'The Primal Scream'. In it Janov expounded his theory that people could discover their core, basic needs and desires through direct emotional experience. Basically this meant vocalising their “Pain” by standing around and shrieking at the top of their voices – a lot. Former Beatle John Lennon and Ono were firm believers and were heavily influenced by Janov’s ideas and they were gracious enough to incorporate this into some of their songs. Oh goodie. There are some gems on the first CD of her six disc 'Onobox'. While her later output has a lot to recommend it this first one is dire. 'O Wind (Body is the Scar of Your Mind)', from her album 'Fly' basically consists of her wailing, and wailing, and wailing. Also from 'Fly' is 'Open Your Box' which is basically funk ‘n’ shriek as if the Oompahlumpas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were on helium whilst being tortured. Even the appearance of Ringo Starr on 'Why' can’t improve matters. 'The Path' is also a load of self-indulgent twaddle. The piece simply has Ono breathing heavily as if she’s sexually aroused over some 70s style computer effects. My cat has started scratching at the lounge window in a desperate attempt to be let out onto the roof. I can’t say I blame him. Along with the possibly raised blood pressure I start to feel rather anxious and unsettled. My body temperature has definitely risen as I’ve now started to sweat ever so slightly. And my headache has now become fully developed. It seems that I’m staring “The Horror” expressed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 'Apocalypse Now' full in the face at close range. And it is not nice. Oh, make it stop. I promise I’ll never make a derogatory remark about the All Saints reunion or the latest Girls Aloud single ever again… Roughly only about three to four hours in and I can’t take any more. Ono has defeated me and I have to press stop for the sake of my sanity and have a breather. Something mainstream and popular might rectify the situation so a quick blast of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 'Stimmung' could do the trick. Ah, the appeal of some electronic vocal dissonance has never sounded so welcoming. But my cat isn’t too fussed and I can see him outside, peering over the ledge watching the people pass by. He’s clearly not even impressed by the marvels of Stockhausen. After a 15-minute break, I reluctantly go back to the task in hand. It’s then that the existential dread hits me. The four walls that I’m inside are not the walls of the lounge but the walls of a prison cell. That nice comfy chair has metaphorically warped into a forbidding electric chair and I’ve effectively, and willingly, strapped myself in. But I must soldier on. Ono’s primal scream-based songs though are only the hors d’oeuvres compared to the main course of her collaborations with husband John Lennon – 'Wedding Album'. The couple’s 1969 collaboration must surely take the crown for the greatest act of self-indulgent, ego-massaging, utter load of dire crap ever committed to vinyl. Fortunately the album only contains two tracks. Unfortunately they both take up one side of vinyl each. Up first is 'John and Yoko'. Recorded at Abbey Road the couple recorded a few seconds of each other's heartbeats and then looped them for 22-minutes whilst they called out each other’s names. And that’s it. Yes, John Lennon was one of the Beatles, who, along with Paul McCartney, did write some of the universally best loved pop songs in history. He also had a hand in 'John and Yoko'. Just remember that the next time you’re cornered by some pub bore droning on about the wonders of those lovable Mop Tops. I do make it to the end of the first side, but admittedly only just. This really is awful and its actually becoming painful on my ears Side two consists of 'Amsterdam', which is effectively audio verité. The recording stems from Lennon and Ono’s residency at the Amsterdam Hilton which was the site from their famous “bed-in” after their marriage in Gibraltar. For a numb-inducing 25-minutes the listener can hear Lennon ordering the likes of tea and brown toast from room service as well as talking to the press from the comfort of his bed. Although 'Amsterdam' is slightly better than 'John and Yoko', this is truly one fucking awful record. It gets my vote for the worst record ever made. It’s loaded with narcissism and is completely self-indulgent, never mind being unlistenable. Personally, I think the US army has got their policy of playing loud rock music in certain hostile situations. In the American advance into the Iraq city of Fallujah in 2004 the armed forces played the likes of AC/DC’s 'Hell’s Bells' in an attempt to unnerve the resistance it faced. The FBI also followed a similar policy in the armed siege at Waco in 1993. Clearly this is a misguided policy. Instead of rock and rap music, a few minutes of the “Wedding Album” would have been enough to bring anyone to their knees. I have to admit defeat on this. The 'Wedding Album' has got the better of me. I just can’t simply take any more. A couple of hours being tortured under the Spanish Inquisition is preferable to this. Stramgely though at the end I oddly feel that I have let myself down a bit. I had high hopes and there were so many possible contenders I never got round to airing. A particular favourite, if that’s the right word, of mine is Earth. 'Earth 2' was released in the early 90s on the Sub Pop label, then better known for its stable of grunge acts. Earth took the ideas of La Monte Young and made them boring. There’s also the Residents’ 'Meet the Residents' which is usually listed in the all-time worst albums lists. Most of the recordings of Throbbing Gristle could be a worthy contender. And it’s rather controversial I know, but if you ask me, Radiohead’s 'Kid A' could easily be a contender too. So many unlistenable albums and only one life. Some things are just unfair. And, so after hours of aural agony to soothe and calm me it’s got to be Napalm Death, surely…

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