Album review: Sonic Youth- The Eternal

Sex, anger and more twists and turns than ever – c’mon, what did you expect?

Sonic Youth’s debut on the Matador label, heralding the end of 17 years with Geffen, is no new dawn of no wave experimentalism. Rather it’s a continuation of the roll they’ve been on since 2004’s ‘Sonic Nurse’. ‘The Eternal’ channels the impressionistic wartime fury of that album, blends it with the more straightforward songs of 2006’s ‘Rather Ripped’ and then stirs it up with some lascivious rock’n’roll sleaze.

There’s an irresistible focus about SY these days, a united purpose, as evidenced by the way their usually quite divided, often actively competitive, front-line of Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore are now sharing vocals within songs. And what songs they are: ‘Sacred Trickster’ begins at pace, quickly turns down a death metal alley then takes flight into melody as Gordon screams “I want you to levitate me!”. Both heavy and hooky, it lays a template for what follows.

‘Anti-Orgasm’ is guitar Grand Guignol, containing about eight different riffs, solos, punk-rock wig-outs and relentless rhythmic chording as Gordon and Moore go “Uh, uh, uh, anti-God is anti-orgasm!” before it ends with a long, ambient outro. Ranaldo’s visceral ‘What We Know’ and the gorgeous ‘Antenna’ also follow the classic Sonic Youth template of roiling, shape-shifting songs which expand and collapse but never quite fall apart. This tension is erotic by its very nature and though sex has never really been associated with Sonic Youth, it’s always been there, and on ‘Calming the Snake’, boy does Kim Gordon brazenly display it. “Come on down, down to the river/Come on down I wanna feel you shiver” she pants, as the band hump out a horny riff and then a violent climax as she breathes, “Sliding, sliding, sliding… and nooooow!” You shouldn’t think about how old they are during this, or the similarly surreally sleazy ‘Poison Arrow’.

The following ‘Malibu Gas Station’, though, shows things are never that straightforward here as Gordon apparently plays up the erotic aspects of conspicuous consumption and yelps like a jewel-collared spaniel in the arms of its plastic-and-platinum LA owner: “C’mon do it, gotta use it, atta girl, don’t you blow it”. What it shows is that, while Sonic Youth are still keen to display their counter-cultural wares, dedicating songs to beat poet Gregory Corso and Bobby Pyn, aka The Germs’ Darby Crash, they’ve managed to meld their avant-gardisms to pure rock’n’roll thrills. Both cerebral and corporeal, sacred and profane, ‘The Eternal’ sees this band approach the level of The Velvet Underground, where chaos and beauty ravish each other within the same song. Clever old sods.

Martin Robinson

[I]DOWNLOAD: 1) ‘Antenna’ 2) ‘Calming The Snake’ 3) ‘Anti-Orgasm’[/I]