The major label debut. Sonic Youth had followed the lead of Hüsker Dü by leaving the indie underground behind to sign with a major label. This deal with DGC paved the way for an explosion of new bands to become far more accessible than they had ever previously imagined. Of course that is a fight for another day, because some people defend Sonic Youth’s decision to take their show to the majors, while others still say that they had sold out. Thurston Moore tried to clear things up, after moving to Matador for the final phase in their career, saying that it was merely a matter of distribution. They wanted to reach more people, and with the internet thriving in the new millennium the band felt comfortable enough (and I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they were a household name by the time “The Eternal” came out anyway) to leave the major label behind and return to an independent like Matador.
All of that is beside the point. I think it’s more important that Sonic Youth managed to keep their artistic selves in tact during the transition. Sure, “Goo” certainly sounds more produced than any of their previous efforts, and some of the songs seem to be obvious attempts at mainstream radio-play. Ok, maybe not mainstream like Top 40, but “Dirty Boots,” and “Kool-Thing,” though classic SY tracks, sound very of the time. But with some of those attempts at commercial success they also had songs like “Tunic (Song for Karen),” “Cinderella’s Big Score,” and “Titanium Exposé” that are obvious products of the usual SY process.
The noise hadn’t disappeared by any means, for that we have “Mildred Pierce.” The same can be said for the overall atmosphere of the album, that brings back the general sinister darkness of, say, “Evol.”
I can’t help but wonder, listening back to the album now for probably the millionth time, if there was a certain part of them that was ironically recording some of these songs as wry commentaries on the corporate rock world overall. Hearing some of those “solos” come in, or the barrage of noise and interplay between Thurston and Lee that serve to stand in for the guitar solos, make me smile to myself. It’s as though they are commenting on the traditional rock song format, in the era of hair metal, by following it to a tee without straying from their original concept.
And they are geniuses for being able to do something like that. That ability to be adept, and thoroughly assured of their style allows them to only have to shade things ever so slightly in order to move between seemingly sarcastic social commentary to individualistic honesty. Just listen to the difference between the noise break down in “Dirty Boots” and that of “Tunic (Song for Karen).”
I also remember that when I was first listening to this album (“Goo” and “Dirty” were the first two Sonic Youth albums I ever owned. “Dirty” was the most recent release when I bought the CDs and two shirts off a friend of mine when I was in middle school) I had taped it from the CD and for some reason or another I had left “Mote” off the tape. I’m assuming it was something to do with that it’s the longest track on the album and I probably had “Dirty” on one side and “Goo” on the other. Anyway, the re-discovery (or maybe it was simply discovery) of “Mote” has etched into my mind that that is one of the best tracks on the album.
There really isn’t a bad track on the album, but it must have come as somewhat of a shock to people that were with them from the beginning. Thankfully the album isn’t so different that it sounds very “of the time.” This album has just as much of a timeless quality as each of those preceding. “Disappearer” captures that haunting beauty and ecstatic energy that really become a growing part of their overall aesthetic. For the first time in writing these entries about Sonic Youth I am finding it difficult to not just upload each of the tracks. I’m sure that the album can be found in full on youtube or spotify or whatever so you’ll just have to listen to the three that I decided on here. I figured I wouldn’t pick the obvious ones, but tracks that still manage to capture the overall sound of the album.
I feel like I am really lucky to have gotten into Sonic Youth at about this time. They still had several good albums in them after this, and to a certain extent this is where I start to feel as though I actually grew up listening to the band. Pretty significant, and rare, to be able to stick with a band from the time you are 13 to the time you are 32.
In the next part of this ongoing chronicle I’ll talk about “Dirty,” or the album that started it all for me, or the album that was my favorite thing ever for 2 years until “Experimental, Jet Set, Trash & No Star” came out.