We are doing something a little different for this review of Lawrence Crow. We had two of our reviewers take a crack at this review. we have decided to print both. We will let you the reader and listener decide for yourself who was right. You will see the first review is significantly shorter than the 2nd.
Crap on tape. The end.
In 1975, Lou Reed put out an album called “Metal Machine Music”. The record was purchased by a respectable number of Reed enthusiasts who were expecting more of the same from a man who was something like a rock star at that time. Upon first listen, a large portion of the copies sold were promptly returned to the establishments from which they’d been purchased and went on to spend a long, long, long time in the used record bins set against the back walls of these very same stores. Circle of Life!
Reed had done on this album was something that inspired a variety of reactions and theories from critics, fans and fellow musicians. Reed was playing a joke on the public. Reed had found a lazy and wise-assey way to honor a decidedly unreasonable record contract. Reed had finally succumbed to the horrific effects of the mysterious drug that he’d canonized on the second side of the first Velvet Underground album and had romanticized through his carefully crafted public image ever since. Any of these theories could be true; Reed himself has never given a straight answer.
But there were a handful of lonely Rock N’ Roll ideologues who felt that Reed had done something kind of important; that he’d tapped into the essence of Rock N’ Roll, beyond melody, beyond rhythm, beyond lyric. Perhaps Lou Reed had successfully plumbed the depths and come back to the land of the commercialized pop marketplace with the essence of Little Richard’s, Buddy Holly’s, Chuck Berry’s angst tucked safely in his back pocket. What was Metal Machine Music after all, other than a stripping away of everything that wasn’t specific to Rock n’ Roll, of everything that wasn’t loud, frightening, disorienting, confrontational and abrasive?
What Reed had done was not new, it was something that would be, and will be, done over and over again for as long as Rock n’ Roll performance exists. But Reed was the only musician bold enough, arrogant enough, stupid enough to package it as a consumer product. Metal Machine Music is nothing more than a variety of guitars, tuned differently and placed against their respective amplifiers. Reed lets the equipment do the work and leaves the listener to sink or swim in a sea of un-tempered feedback.
I bought the album when I was living in Japan and commuting back and forth from a dingy apartment to a brightly-lit English Language school, where I taught conversational English to business men and school girls who had an academic understanding of the language that far surpassed my own. I listened to Reed’s noise as I boarded the morning bullet train and soon discovered the possibilities available in such a ridiculous recording. Bombarded with too many tones all at once, I was forced to make my own melodic choices, to jump back and forth to the notes that fit my given situation. So much sound was available all at once that I was free to make my own music inside the buzzing wash of Metal Machine Music. But the album didn’t work unless I was willing to work with it. Like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting, the art took place in the context of my communication with the art object, not in the artist’s intentionality or execution.
Fast forward a few years later; I am summoned by the company brass at YourBand.info—as if by the disembodied voice that passed out assignments on Charlie’s Angels—to review a collection of recordings by Lawrence Crow…well, mine is not to question why…
What Crow does is, like the music on Reeds opus, not overly original. Indeed, one, one might look no further than the early solo work of someone like Martin Rev to find an obvious influence. Still, in listening to the rumbling dissonance of over-long sustained keyboard notes that seems to make up the lion’s share of this music, I find myself effected in much the same way that I continue to be by Metal Machine Music.
Sure, it would be easy, and perhaps not inappropriate, to compare Crow’s sprawling, droning, synthesizer soundscapes with the music in that episode of Friends…you know the one; where Ross, consumed by his own pretensions, resurrects his high-school, avant-techno persona and drags his keyboard to the stage of the Central Perk so that he might regale his fellow characters with his own special brand of genius. And perhaps it is just as appropriate to laugh at Crow and his assortment of recordings; what does he take us for anyway? Is he making a joke? Does he really want us to believe this is music?
But let’s forget about the man behind the music for a moment. Let’s forget about music all together. Let’s respond only to our reactions and responses as these sounds happen to us. Once again, we sink or swim in the slow and foreboding waves of a monotonous ocean. We accept or reject the clusters of notes that do battle with one another forever and ever and ever on these tracks. But weather we accept or reject or love or hate, we are engaged, communicating with the recordings and making decisions about their place in the universe in relation to ours.
The common refrain when confronted with music like this, or art like Pollock’s, is usually something along the lines of “My five-year-old can do that”. This may be true, but this response begs a few questions: did your five year old do that? Did your five year old call it art? Would you react as strongly to your five year old’s work as to this? Indeed, would you react to the most lovely and accessible of Monet’s paintings or the most crisp and lush of the Beatles’ hits as you would to this?
Lawrence Crow makes us do the work and, in eliciting our reactions, he makes us, voluntarily or not, a part of the art object. Is he talented? Is he serious? Could a five year old do this? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the dialogue that exists between the listener and the listened-to. And if you hate it, then Crow has won; hate is a strong reaction, and making an audience react is part of what a true artist does.