As Robert Christgau writes in his review of "Rather Ripped": "Sonic Youth are the best band in the universe, and if you can't get behind that, that's your problem." I've been listening to the album a lot these past few days, enjoying the surprises they create when they simplify their sound, all the songs based on rock hooks and distinct melodies. The liner notes say the album was recorded over two months, which can be felt in the immediacy of each song. Nothing is wasted in their sound. For this album they've abandoned the Grateful Dead-ish noise improvisations of recent work, but they've kept that band's spirit of perseverance, as well as an awareness of age as anything but a hindrance.
Kim Gordon sings some of the best songs on the album, including the magnificent "Turquoise Boy." The lyrics don't read like much on the page but they're thrilling in the context of the song, wrapped in slow-motion, plaintive guitars.
"Turquoise boy I must confess to you
Sweet liberation has come
You are a legend in a lovely game
But now I feel I must run..."
The first album of theirs I really turned on to was Daydream Nation, which I kept playing over & over in the summer of 1989 on a Maxell blank tape. Since then, each new album has been an education for me. I'm probably too enamored of their sound to offer an objective map of this recent work. The last time I saw them play live was for their Washing Machine tour, somewhere in mid-town Manhattan ten years ago. Like the Grateful Dead, Sonic Youth's approach to concerts is casual, with the music being the only focus, as opposed to the bullshit of stardom or being sufficiently avant-garde or cool. That night I didn't even notice them much on stage, only the epic scope of those songs that kept disintegrating into such beautiful noise, the walls of the theater becoming a resonance box. I love this new album's conciseness, and hope I get the chance to see them play it live.