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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Sonic Youth

eclectic reviews and opinions

Sonic Youth

Rather Ripped

(Geffen, 2006)

Sonic Youth are entering their second quarter century. Man, that hurts my head. Jim O'Rourke, who I'd credited with re-invigorating the band circa Murray Street, is out. The band also recovered some of the stolen guitars lost in 1999. I don't think I was alone in thinking that the loss of the customized equipment -- as painful as it was for the band -- was creatively beneficial. How do those things affect Rather Ripped? Not nearly as much, I'm guessing, as some quality time spent with Marquee Moon. Television's influence is more audible than ever: the record is full of interlocking stereo-separated arpeggios and brief guitar fills with Verlaine-y bends. Thurston Moore's voice, which has rarely sounded better or more relaxed, has also rarely sounded more like Tom Verlaine's. (Kim Gordon, in contrast, sounds a trifle strained in places.) Rather Ripped continues Sonic Youth's recent tradition of playing much more "inside" (at least on the albums Geffen releases) than the band used to. Rather Ripped uses feedback and noise for seasoning rather than as a foundation, and while the guitar leads offer a handful of gloriously "wrong" notes, they consist mostly of "right" ones. In many bands, "mature" and "accomplished" translate to "boring," but if Sonic Youth has perhaps lost its old edge, it's found a new one to replace it. "Or" has a guitar melody and overall tempo that suggest a lullaby, but the harmonic tension of the pulsing monotone bassline, Lee Renaldo's subdued clamor, and its rhythmic quirks make it anything but relaxing.

Unfortunately the words -- which are wicked oversexed this time out -- make me wish, more than ever, that Sonic Youth would go all-instrumental. The blatant Television homage "Incinerate" is close enough to the spirit of its template that I can forgive its underlying fire/desire metaphor, and "Rats" is a perfectly acceptable urban decay spiel (and also the most solidly rockin' offering). But I far prefer Gordon's anti-sexism rants to her breathy come-on numbers, of which "What a Waste" ("You're so chaste/I can't wait/To taste your face") is one of the barrel-scrapingest. "Pink Steam" lopes along for 5 satisfying minutes of textural, dynamic, and melodic changes before Moore's awful softcore lyric drags it down. Worst of all, "Or" devolves into a roadweariness saga nearly as dreadful as Bob Seger's "Dude, just hang it up already" epic, "Turn the Page." ("What time you guys playin'?/What comes first/The music/Or/The words?") Really, does anyone ever ask Sonic Youth that?


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