Sonic Re-evaluation (part 3)

July 8, 2009

In this final installment of my re-evaluation of Sonic Youth’s post-Goo catalogue, I examine Sonic Nurse, Rather Ripped and the SYR series.

Sonic Nurse (2004): NYC Ghosts and Flowers was the first SY album that I didn’t buy when it came out. Sonic Nurse was the first I didn’t even listen to. Even at the insistence that it was their best work in years, especially the Kim Gordon songs. But I simply couldn’t be bothered. For whatever reason, I had it in my mind they were dried up old fossils who’d taken their music in the wrong direction. I think I believed they should have only been making avant garde noise music like they were on the side with their Sonic Youth Recordings series. But as far as pop music was concerned they had become irrelevant and I was irrationally offended they continued to put out song-based records. I think in 2004 I was having a bit of a nervous breakdown.

People were true to their word though and Nurse is one of their better late-period records. Perhaps it doesn’t seem quite as consistent as NYC or A Thousand Leaves, but that could be in part due to songs like “Pattern Recognition” and “I Love You Golden Blue”, which rank with the best of their career, standing out so much. The production is crisp, the rockers rock and the textured guitar interplay between Lee and Thurston has scarcely been better on any SY record. I should have listened to the people pushing this medicine.

4 dudes out of 5 ranches.

Rather Ripped (2006): This was the first SY record I’d bought in years. I can’t remember the thought process which lead me to the purchase. Perhaps I’d heard the hooky single “Incinerate” or maybe I’d been listening to Goo and Daydream Nation again. I was driving a car with a cassette deck and had a box of alt-rock tapes in the back seat. If Teeanage Fanclub put out an album that year, I’d probably have bought it too. Fanclub probably did put out an album that year. I didn’t buy it. Why I picked up Rather Ripped, I don’t know. But I did and I loved it at first. I remember telling Andrew, with absolute authority, it was their best “pop” album since Dirty but that it was too obviously a contrived return to form. I honestly did think this, but I hadn’t heard Sonic Nurse at all or given NYC a fair shake either. I was basically talking out my ass.

I think I had a point though. “Incinerate” definitely was their best radio-ready ear worm since “Sugar Kane” but it also smacked of being exactly that. In some ways the album plays like Dirty, Part 2. Only it doesn’t have the drive that album had. For an album called Rather Ripped, it hardly rips at all. It may sport a revoutionary spray-paint stencil red and black cover design, but it’s never revolutionary or in the red. The needle stays well within the black side of the VU meter at all times. Cranking the levels might have been all the album needed to elevate it from humdrum to humdinger. Lack of spark may be why it plays a little long as well. It sounds like their most over-worked effort since Washing Machine and could have used some editing. Though it’s not their worst album (*cough* Murray Street *cough*), it’s the one I’m least likely to put on again.

2.5 hand grenades out of 5 chests.

SYR–Sonic Youth Recordings Series (1997-2008): While SY were putting out albums on Geffen I was ignoring, they’d also set up their own label called SYR to release their avant garde compositions, experiments and jams. Somewhere between post-rock and free jazz, the records showcase that side of the band many long-time fans revel in. The free, creative, ecstatic, transcendental side. I ate up the first four in the series before deciding the band had disappeared up their own asses. Revisiting these eight discs now, it doesn’t sound that way. Some of the experiments are bound to work better than others but on the whole this is first class free-improv/post-noise music. It’s too bad they didn’t work more of these ideas into their Geffen albums. Murray Street could have been saved by cutting the first three tracks and adding a 25 minute opus like “Heavy Jam #1”.

On average: 3 to 4.5 improvisations out of 5 compositions


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: