Sonic Youth - The Eternal
by Geoff Anstey
After breaking their major label ties, Sonic Youth returns to their indie roots by leaping out the gate with one of their most energized rockers in years. The mellow jams that characterized their last few works have been put on the back burner, and even with most the band pushing 50, The Eternal is focused, sharp, and lively. But as thrilling as it is to see the alt legends crashing through the bends, the whole thing feels a bit too much like a day at the races, with little new ground covered.
This is less of a problem for Sonic Youth—having crafted one of the most unique sounds in rock music over their 28-year career—than it would be for other bands. But comfort is a flavor on most the songs, and on a few it’s strong enough to become a detraction. “Leaky Life Boat,” for instance, acts as a characterless mannequin for Sonic Youth stand-bys: harmonic interplay, noisy backing guitar, and airy, detached bridges. The over-long “Anti-Orgasm” concludes with a spacey jam that could have been taken straight out of any of their four preceding albums. But this is the album at its worst, and there’s a lot to make up for such complacency.
Within the already solid set are some of the best songs Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo have ever released with the band. “Sacred Trickster” and “What We Know” are fierce. But the real standouts are left for the end. “Malibu Gas Station” flows like liquid glass, encasing Gordon’s raspy vocals in a haunting yet brisk riff, while throwing some of the band’s best interplay in for good measure. Ranaldo’s “Walking Blue” is equally fantastic, and is one of the few Sonic Youth songs to incorporate classic rock. On paper, adding some Neil Young or the Who to Sonic Youth seems dubious, but here it perfectly fleshes out the song’s concise choruses, and adds a warmth to the song’s excellent bite.
Thurston Moore, on the other hand, is disappointingly out of the spotlight. He never drops the ball on The Eternal, but he’s not the superstar that he usually is on Sonic Youth records. Moore’s recent solo album, Trees Outside the Academy, has probably tapped him out a bit, and as good as “Antenna” and “No Way” are, they don’t quite reach the high watermarks of his previous standouts. But this aside, the band is still in fantastic form, and The Eternal is a commendable effort.
—geoff ansteyblog comments powered by Disqus
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