SONIC YOUTH – The Eternal (Matador)

I must admit that I have not bought a Sonic Youth album since 1992’s ‘Dirty’, and when I heard they had a new one out I was sceptical that a group in their mid 50’s could produce anything to emulate, let alone eclipse, their early work. Dinosaur Jr’s return to form has proved me wrong on that point, so I thought that I would give the Youth (!!!) a chance. Right from the opening chords of ‘Sacred Trickster’ it is as if the last seventeen years never happened and this is a belated follow-up to ‘Dirty’. Kim Gordon’s vocals are as distinctive as ever, and Thurston Moore’s guitar has lost none of its power. Its two minutes are over far too quickly, but are compensated by the six minute epic that is ‘Anti-Orgasm’. Gordon, Moore and Lee Ranaldo now sometimes share vocal duties in the same song, and this one shows that it can work extremely well. Add in pummelling guitar overload, some punk rock freakout, and half the song given over to an instrumental coda and you have Sonic Youth at their best. ‘Leaky Lifeboat’ sound tame in comparison to the two preceding tracks, but the guitar-work lifts it out of the ordinary, and similarly ‘Antenna’ is used as a springboard for some fine guitar solos from Moore and Ranaldo. Heavy riffs are back in force for Ranaldo’s ‘What We Know’, and the guitar freakout in the middle is classic Youth, as is the way the dual guitars explode from the speakers after the lulling intro of ‘Calming The Snake’. ‘Poison Arrow’ sounds like one of their more mainstream songs, until you listen carefully and hear the droning feedback working away in the background, but ‘Malibu Gas Station’ takes the opposite route and uses a lighter tone to allow some straight-ahead guitar soloing over a chunky rhythm. ‘No Way’ has a hint of the Ramones in the ‘Hey, Hey’ chorus and the punk energy that drives through it, and ‘Walkin’ Blue’ whisks you right back to their classic albums like ‘Goo’ and ‘Daydream Nation’. They close the album with something of a departure in ‘Massage The History’, a nine minute piece which starts slowly with some Floydian guitar lines and a whispered vocal before the rhythm section come in to beef up the chorus, giving the guitars a chance to shine on some great droning solos, before they crest the ridge and come down the other side with some more chilling guitar-work and a truly creepy vocal from Kim. If this album has taught me anything it is not to judge a band by its age, as the music on here is still so unique that a group thirty years their junior wouldn’t even have a clue where to start to make something this good. If you have fond memories of the band, or even if you are too young to remember them the first time but love experimental rock music, then ‘The Eternal’ needs to be heard, and should be held up as a benchmark for what truly indie music should sound like.
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