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Old Dogs + Old Tricks

May 22, 2009

The last few years have seen a few decent reunion and “return to form” records by indie and alternative rock veterans, but nothing to ultimately rival their back-catalogue. Stereolab and Sonic Youth hit us with some of their old brilliance (Chemical Chords and Rather Ripped respectively) and Bauhaus made a record as good as to be expected after 25 years. Yet after a few listens to these “comebacks”, the initial glow faded and they began to sound like contrived attempts at giving their fans what they wanted. At worst, Rather Ripped was tinged with a sense of cynical parody. Though Go Away White miraculously sounded like Bauhaus instead of simply Peter Murphy fronting Love and Rockets, it was maybe too self-consciously a Bauhaus record. The same with Stereolab’s last two albums. Both a welcome return to the sound of their classic period, but this time they were by-the-numbers and without the same sense of excitement and exploration. No longer charting new territory, they could plan the safest, quickest route to their space-age bachelor pad, missing the point of the journey entirely.

So it is that rumours of new My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain records worry me a little. But then again, so far 2009 has been a stellar year for my old musical favourites getting their groove back.

Superchunk have come out of (I assumed) retirement with one of the best EPs of their career. Leaves in the Gutter reclaims the punky fire of No Pocky For Kitty and marries it with their more mature post-Foolish song-writing style. It’s the best of both ‘Chunk worlds. “Learned to Surf” is nearly as strong a single as “Hyper Enough” lacking only that song’s massive guitar riff.

Yes is a record I was both anticipating and fearing. Pet Shop Boys have been vaguely disappointing me with new releases since Nightlife. Though not a band who’ve ever really abandoned their sound (except for the millenial “rock” misstep Release), the previous album Fundamental was supposed to be their “return to form” opus. It was close but slightly flawed—perhaps also a victim of trying too self-consciously to recapture the old magic. In fact, the stronger tracks seemed to have been saved for b-sides. This is something that’s been a frustration I’ve had with PSB for a while now. Anyhow, I digress. Yes fundamentally delivers on that promise. Nearly all-killer-no-filler, it’s fun, intelligent, wry and top-rate pop music. Everything the Boys are best at is highlighted once again. Yes, etc (the 2-disc version) is even better. A bonus track called “This Used To Be The Future” is again one of the best things they’ve done and is bogglingly not on the main album.

Perhaps having learned from Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth are back. The Eternal embodies everything that was once great about SY. But unlike Ripped, it does so in a progressive, un-selfconscious way. This isn’t Sonic Youth trying to sound like Sonic Youth, this is Sonic Youth being Sonic Youth. It’s some of their rawest performances, most grating sounds and biggest riffs since Goo, but played with the musical prowess of seasoned musicians. It’s almost like a merging of Confusion is Sex and Dirty. Again, the best of both worlds. Rather Ripped came off as an attempt at Dirty, Part Two; the previous few albums a little too much like they were trying to create “art.” The Eternal just sounds like a band being themselves, kicking out the jams (there are some amazing jams to be kicked out here), and getting transcendental on your punk ass. Truly one of the best of their career.

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