The year of 1988 was a big one for music. Yes, Bon Jovi were dishing out bad medicine and Kylie should’ve been so lucky, but the alternative landscape was changed forever by four albums that sounded unlike anything that had come before: My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Isn’t Anything’, the Pixies’ ‘Surfer Rosa’, Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Bug’ and Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’.
Until their uncharacteristic recent decision to release an album through Starbucks, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley were unimpeachably cool. Not in the same way as other New York bands such as Stellastarr* were supposedly cool because they wore some nice vintage T-shirts and had once heard a Television album. Sonic Youth’s cool was entirely effortless; they were the best four older siblings you could ever imagine. ‘Daydream Nation’, their sixth album, found them playing with rock’n’roll iconography: like many classics, it was a double-album; the original vinyl issue had symbols representing each band member on the labels, like on ‘Led Zeppelin IV’, and it ends with that most prog-rock of gimmicks – a trilogy. By rights it should be a bloated, self-indulgent mess, at best it should be dismissed as ‘challenging’; instead it’s constantly thrilling and not a single second is wasted. From the front cover to the back cover and across the 15 tracks inbetween, Sonic Youth mix personal with political, celebratory with confrontational, avant-garde with pop, high art with ‘Total Trash’.
‘Teen Age Riot’ was written about
J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, but still sounds like a call to arms – a rallying cry for the alternative tribes – not to mention the finest opening track to an album ever. ‘The Sprawl’, influenced by cyberpunk author William Gibson, satirises consumerism (hey, Kim, hold that Frappuccino). As well as being a pun on Jimi Hendrix’s hit ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Hey Joni’ is a surreal paean to folk singer Joni Mitchell, while ‘Eric’s Trip’ references a character in Andy Warhol’s art-house classic Chelsea Girls. This isn’t an album; it’s a manifesto of cool, illustrated with discordant guitars.
This new reissue adds a second CD (or if you get the vinyl version, two extra discs making it a quadruple-album) with live versions of every ‘Daydream Nation’ track (even ‘Providence’ – essentially a piano, an overheating amp and present-day Stooges bassist Mike Watt phoning from Providence, Rhode Island) plus four cover versions, including The Beatles’ ‘Within You Without You’ recorded for the charity compilation ‘Sgt Pepper Knew My Father’, which was brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood NME.But these are mere details. Basically, one of the best albums of all time just got better. Get the teenage riot started – without ‘Daydream Nation’, there’s no alternative.