Considering Lou Reed’s most famous instrumental opus, Metal Machine Music, is a howling cacophony of wailing feedback and a possible middle finger to contractual obligation, then Hudson River Wind Meditations, his new vocal-less release, is entirely dissimilar to its predecessor’s construction. As the liner notes state, this album has been composed to facilitate meditation, the practice of Tai Chi, and is meant to be, “music to play in the background of life.” It’s soft wind-like rhythms or long-thrumming drones are gentle but insistent. In the 35 years between the reverb-drenched clamour of the one record, and the gradual throbbing electronics of the other, there has been a clear change of mood and intent.
Reed has often been distinguished as contrary, but Hudson River Wind Meditations will not shock the listener, nor will it be as surprising as his Edgar Allan Poe concept album that came before it. For all the perversity and myth that surrounds the unholy noise of Metal Machine Music, it was nonetheless created as a serious piece of art (or, as Lester Bangs said, “to be taken every day like vitamins”). Now, there may be cynical guffaws over aging rock stars producing indulgent ambient soundtracks for the pace of their twilight years, but these new compositions are successful in moving beyond the more pedestrian constraints of the oeuvre. Instead of sounding like a soon-forgotten generator humming in the corner, where a stereo is situated, the aural textures of these pieces probe and surround to create the ideal atmospherics for a journey into inner spaces.
Hudson River Wind Meditations offers little for those who want a repeat of Reed’s previous art rock incarnations, or another chapter of his particular brand of street poetry. Two of the four tracks are around 30 minutes long, repetitive, and completely different from the other extended works in his back catalogue. There is nothing that resembles “Sister Ray,” or even “Street Hassle,” but as a suite of slow electronic pieces, the album delivers the subtlety and the detail required for meditation. It also exists as an engaging background, without the use of a crescendo of angry guitar feedback.