Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sonic Youth - 'The Eternal' - CD Review

(Puss in Boots and Desci may just want to skip this post)

'The Eternal' is SY's 16th studio album. Other enduring rock bands become cover bands of their own earlier work (eg: Jesus & Mary Chain, Sex Pistols, Elton John), or they release dull middle-class variations of their early work (eg: U2, and dare I say it, Nick Cave), or they don't even bother putting much effort into new stuff and instead tour the world based solely on their reputation (eg: AC/DC, Rolling Stones), and there's also the ones that release nothing at all but still manage to announce or perform massive tours (Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd).

It is rare to come across a band that over 20-30+ years continue to release quality recordings with as much verve and power as the work that gained them fame in the first place. Tom Waits is one such beast. Bowie is arguably one as well. Sonic Youth is another.

Their sound is very unique, which comes as a result of alternate guitar tuning, a propensity to invent new sounds using custom-made effect pedals, extreme loudness and a delightful avoidance of standard 'verse-chorus' song structures.

Being that all the band members are in their early to mid 50's, the question had to be asked... can Kym, Lee, Thurstan and Steve still rock? On goes the CD (for the 5th time this weekend) at full volume.


1: "Sacred Trickster" --- Dischordant mindfuck clitrock uh-huh uh-huh. Ears already bleeding over keyboard.

2: "Anti-Orgasm" --- Metal spiced womb-thumpin' foot-stompin' g droppin' artrock. Guitar lick sounds like God dying. 'Sister' era bridges. 'Washing Machine' era middle, 'Murray Street' era sweet outro. The band's history summed up in 6 minutes.

3: "Leaky Lifeboat" --- One of Lee's two contributions. Like all his songs over the last 30 years, they have some cool guitar work but don't sound fully SY. He's a guitar God, but he should leave the songwriting/singing to Kym and Thurstan.

4: "Antenna" --- Smoother than a baby's bum epic noiserock. Chorus a bit humdrum but the rest sweeter than sucking on Aphrodite's tits.

5: "What We Know" ---- See track 3.

6: "Calming The Snake" ---- Calming her snake, but exciting mine. Kym Gordon = Rock Goddess No. 1 ever ever. Guitars on fire. Loins on fire.

7: "Poison Arrow" ---- Good music, shit lyric melody/concept.

8: "Malibu Gas Station" --- Hmm, we're in a mid-album bland rut. Has moments, but you have to wait around a bit, but redeems over the last 90 seconds, which is about the best 90 seconds on the album.

9: "Thunderclap For Bobby Pyn" --- Whoah-whoah yeah-yeah 2-minute cockrock rockin' punk cocks yeah yeah rock. Play at 11 or not at all. Not bad, but not great.

10: "No Way" --- The obvious sell-out catchy single track that's not as good as the ones where they don't give a fuck about radio airplay.

11: "Walkin Blue" --- Walk in or walking? Dunno. Dunno about the song either. They go all 60's psychadelia harmony-like. Strip the feedback away and it could go on Sesame Street.

12: "Massage The History" --- Nine minute closer. Sweet. Very sweet, but one for the fans. Kym does a Bardot and the boys swoon. I melted into the floor. Equal best on the album (with Anti-Orgasm).


So all in all it ain't their best effort. In the pantheon of 16 albums it'll struggle to get into the Top 10, but it's certainly not in the worst three or four. So, er, that puts it at about 9th-13th. But they prove they can still rock, and still have heaps to offer to the world of rock music.

If you have an I-tunes account and a spare $3.38 and want to expand/start your Sonic Youth collection, purchase 'Anti-Orgasm' and 'Calming The Snake' (you can't get the nine minute one on its own) and play them really, really loud.

If you have another spare $3.38 get 'Malibu Gas Station' and 'Sacred Trickster'.

And Go Tigers.

As TISM said: "Rock music is for the angry and depraved / That's why you can't really rock until you're middle-aged."


Lewd Bob said...

I still believe in the album. I therefore cringe at the suggestion we should buy just 2 tracks.

I suspect you do too, Perseus, but you're more willing to make concessions for today's short-attention-span-suffering youth.

Anonymous said...

Oi - Nick Cave is very sensitive about his manopause.

What do 50-something people rock about anyway? The pension?

The problem, as I see it, with older people in rock is that they seem to rock about the same stuff the young teen / 20-somethings rock about - sex, love and girls/chicks. It sounds ridiculous. You'd expect someone in their 50s to have a complex world-view, insights into people, existential neuroses more believable than some emo teen kid, and some 30+ years of experience playing (and probably failing) the love game. If they could only channel that into their music, they'd leave the 20-something "wa wa wa, girl just hump me, wa wa wa, girl just dumped me" crap for dead.

There's your next mission, Perseus. Write a rock song that intelligent 40-somethings can be take to and would shit over some snotty kid's love ballads.

eat my shorts said...

I therefore cringe at the suggestion we should buy just 2 tracks.

Before iPods/iTunes, I used to have a 3 track rule for CDs. As in, if the band/artist released three singles I liked then I'd fork out for the CD. I don't know why three was the magic number.

I can't remember the last time I even bought a CD?

And, I dunno about 50 year olds being punks and rockers and shit. I mean, they're only ten years younger than my parents. Something about that seems a bit ... off.

I think that makes me ageist.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't really make heads or tails of your track descriptions so I thought I'd have a listen to it on Deezer. I still can't make heads or tails of your descriptions, but I came to the following conclusions - I didn't hate it passionately, but I can't imagine ever wanting to hear it a second time. I think I might have enjoyed it more without the vocals. Didn't mind track 12.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

You didn't like The Boatman's Call?

Perseus said...

Bob: I still believe in Albums, but I'm not that fussed about them. I-Tunes is great because I can now download the two or three good songs from an album instead of forking out a lot more money for songs I don't like.

In fact, when I loaded all my own albums on to I-tunes, there were only five albums that I took every track. Even some of my favourite albums (eg: '10,9.8...', Doolittle) each have a dud song (eg: 'Outside World', 'Silver').

The five albums ever that as far as I'm concerned have no weak track are:

"Velvet Underground & Nico" by Velvet Underground

"Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols" by Sex Pistols

"Daydream Nation" by Sonic Youth

"Tender Prey" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

"Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars" by David Bowie

These aren't necessarily my favourite albums ever by the way - it's just that they have no dud tracks.


Boogey: We do have one song in the verses of which I sing about what I spend my money on (fees, bills, loan repayments, lunch) and the chorus lists what I wish I spent my money on (sex, drugs and rock n roll). It's a middle-age lament.


EMS: I thought you weren't talking to me. Those beers are still there by the way.


Ramon: No, I didn't. Into My Arms is lovely, the rest: meh. 'West Country Girl' is okay.


Alex: I don;t know what Deezer is, but I'm guessing that I won't approve of it.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

'West Country Girl' is about P J Harvey.

There was a Sonic Youth tribute band in Adelaide called Masonic Youth.

Anonymous said...

Perseus, Deezer is a French website that lets you listen to music for free, with links to purchase if you like. They claim to be above-board, though I have no idea if that is true.

Lewd Bob said...

I still say the album should be treated as a book or a movie (see Lou Reed's comments on the back of New York). It tells a whole story - or attempts to. It's an entity.

Selecting songs is like reading just the war parts of War and Peace. Or the action sequences in Moby Dick.

Perseus said...

That may be the case with about 0.01% of albums Bob, but the rest are just a collection of songs put together on the one final product. I reckon 99.99% of albums are more analogous to a collection of short stories, rather than novels.

Classical music (eg: symphonies, operas) are an exception of course.

Perseus said...

...and the other 0.09% are frisbees.

Lewd Bob said...

I think your ratio is way out. I agree there are many albums - particular top 40 pop shit - which is a collection of catchy, danceable and formulaic songs. However music coming from so-called artists is much more album-centric.

I can only make my comments based on the music I listen to, which is, more often than not, an attempt to put together a cohesive narrative or, at the very least, loosely related material.

Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is a recent and excellent example.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I'm with Bob (and Lou) on this.

Perseus said...

As you know, I also loved Hissing Fauna etc. but you must concede, there was one fucking shit song on it (the one where he sings high, like Prince). Therefore, when I play that album, I skip that song. I don't think that's like skipping a tenth of 'War & Peace'.

Lewd Bob said...

I also skip songs and select certain others on my iPod. But that's AFTER I have familiarised myself with the album and attempted to understand its direction and purpose (which is not always possible, of course).

Similarly, I have re-read particular passages from great books, without having to read the whole thing again.

wari lasi said...

The part of this post I can relate to is:

And Go Tigers.

Indeed, they went. Is that 3 from 11 now Perseus? I tipped them but no thanks to you who ignored my plea for help in the "hardest to tip" round of the season so far.

Lewd Bob said...

Incidentally, I'm start to jizz a little bit over 2 songs from the latest Pink Mountaintops album, namely The Gayest of Sunbeams and Holiday.

Perseus said...

'Gayest of Sunbeams' is my favourite on the album as well.

Wari: We will win eight of the last eleven games and come 9th again. We always come 9th.

Anonymous said...

I'd be inclined to agree with Perseus on the album vs songs argument, but I'm worried that doing so could rip a hole in the space-time continuum, and/or sully Desci/Puss/EMS/Alex's mano-a-mano Fight Club smackdown in jelly pit fantasies.

Lewd Bob said...

You show much consideration to your fellow man, Boogey.

eat my shorts said...

EMS: I thought you weren't talking to me. Those beers are still there by the way.

No. I said *you* can't talk to *me*. I can talk to you all I like.

And I think you're lying about the beer. No-one could be that cruel.

and/or sully Desci/Puss/EMS/Alex's mano-a-mano Fight Club smackdown in jelly pit fantasies.

Oh, no! Sully it! Sully that jelly fantasy right up, good and proper. Defile and besmirch it, I say!