Review Summary: music stands as bland as water, without any of the band's interesting flavour to heighten the concoction1 of 1 thought this review was well written
It's 1994 and Sonic Youth has just released three great records (Daydream nation, Goo and Dirty). At this point, Kim Gordon has become pregnant and Sonic Youth has released Experimental jet set, trash, and no star. Sonic Youth for 13 years now (up to 1994) have been pushing the envelope of art punk all the while maintaining a line between noise and pop. All at the same time maintaining a decent amount of mainstream success, which is not an easy feat. But on Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star the band chose to take a different approach to their music. Long gone are the days of the sprawling sonic jams built around a framework of feedback. Sonic Youth's basic foundation of chaotic and noisy rock, mixed with the occasional pop is gone. This time around, Sonic Youth take a much more mellow approach to their music in favour of their more energetic appeal. It's true that bands should take chances with their music, but this album is just too much of a transition for a band that didn't really need a change in sound.
This time around, the group retains its quirky twist on pop/rock song structures all the while moving closer to a more consistent use of verse-chorus-verse song structures. The Sonic Youth fan base most probably wanted more rock than what Sonic Youth delivered on this record but Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star experiments to a higher degree than the rest of their peers, which isn't too hard to do if you're Sonic Youth. Now that most of the Sonic Youth signature sound is wiped out, what's left is odd lyrics and unique guitar harmonic noodling. This approach doesn't yield the right results and the disregard for any cohesion and memorable instrumental hook paralyzes any sort of redeeming quality the record may have. But that doesn't mean Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star is a bad record. In fact, it's still a good record that has the occasional glimpse of the good old' Sonic Youth sound. But the fact of the matter is, there are not enough of the elements that made their past albums so great and the transition is too hard to digest. The production is strange, to say the least. Butch Vig's crystal-clear production gives the record a false image. Even with the crystal clean fact, Starfield road and Winner's Blues emanate plenty of raw spontaneous energy we all love.
A big problem here is the contribution of Kim Gordon (which is minimal). A lot of her songs seem so hollow and just uninspired. Songs like Bull in the heather and Skink are just boring and there's nothing about them that is redeemable. But that's not to say Kim Gordon doesn't have her moments. Screaming Skull and Sweet shine are great songs, one being beautiful and the other hard hitting. The latter is beautiful and calming, driven mainly by the nice guitar work and Kim's beautiful vocal delivery. Screaming Skull on the other hand is probably the hardest hitting song on the album. Kim's vocal delivery is muffled and contorted underneath distortion which adds to the out-of-key nature of her vocals. Another thing that Sonic Youth tries to do but fails to achieve on this record is the attempts at bringing the rock aspect back into the record. Songs like Waist and In the mind of the bourgeois reader have their moments but all in all just don't capture the signature Sonic Youth energy that made songs like Hey Joni and Silver Rocket so damn amazing. There is feedback, but it is so quiet and timid that it's almost as if Sonic Youth had undergone a moment of shyness. But the good moments are in there, somewhere. The aformentioned Starfield road is a strange but rewarding song that starts out full of feedback for the first full minute but once it gets going it just goes through an uphill ascent until Thurston says "In Flames" as the song ends abruptly. The song's feel is somewhat psychedelic which ends up feeling incomplete at the same time feeling complete, which is a really cool feeling. Androgynous mind is a whimsical and humorous song that starts out pretty conventionally but then breaks into a monstrous jam full with the signature Sonic Youth feedback. Truth be told, when Sonic Youth do what they do best the results are much more rewarding to listen to. The rest of the album is just an uninteresting affair and is just plain boring. Other than the few glimpses of brilliance or "good" music, the album falls flat mostly.
Overral, the main problem with Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star is its unnecessary venture into a territory that Sonic Youth didn't need to venture into. With too much of the signature sound gone, the music stands as bland as water, without any of the band's interesting flavour to rectify the concoction, making Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star just another rock record - and a fairly disappointing one at that.