AU57: Sonic Youth album review

June 1, 2009

Sonic Youth album


Still, Sonic Youth refuse to act their age. Even with the addition of ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold (a youngster at 47), the band’s average age is currently 50.4. Kim Gordon is closer to 60 than 50, for crying out loud. And yet they are still as relevant and flat-out excellent as ever, 28 years after forming. Only The Fall and perhaps R.E.M. come anywhere near that level of sustained excellence. U2 ceased to be artistically interesting in 1997. No, Sonic Youth remain one of the best bands in the world and on the evidence of this record, their 15th, they’ll be carrying on for some time yet.

They may be slowing down, mind you, the three years since Rather Ripped marking the longest gap between albums in the career. But then frontman Thurston Moore managed to fit in a solo album in 2007, so we’ll give them a pass. And while Rather Ripped was surprisingly accessible considering the uncommercial route they had been going down this decade, The Eternal retreats a little from its predecessor’s chiming guitar pop. Instead, this is more like a return to the band’s late Eighties/early Nineties salad days, when Daydream Nation, Goo and Dirty provided a slightly more cerebral, New York counterpoint to the grunge coming out of Seattle.

The opening two-minute ‘Sacred Trickster’, charges out of the blocks as a statement of intent, but it’s a slight red herring. More typical is the sexy grind of ‘Anti-Orgasm’ and the anthemic ‘No Way’ and ‘What We Know’, the latter sung lustily by guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Elsewhere, the band stretch out and give the songs some air. Kim Gordon positively smoulders on the slinky, winding ‘Malibu Gas Station’ and the epic closer ‘Massage The History’, while the glorious ‘Antenna’ floats wistfully for six minutes over layers of Moore and Ranaldo’s trademark guitars, anchored by some typically locked-in drumming from Steve Shelley.

You could call this a late career highlight, but that might be doing it a mild disservice, as it stands up superbly next to the best of the back catalogue. Added to the wonderful Rather Ripped, the band’s entry into late middle age seems to have energised them. This couldn’t sound any more like Sonic Youth, but that’s because they have alternative rock pretty much perfected.




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