Let‘s not kid ourselves, Sonic Youth are dirty. One moment they’re parading around screaming about Madonna and insanity, the next they sign on to major record label David Geffen Company and go carousing with the early 90’s grunge bands. First came Goo
in 1990, a slight turn away from the classic sound of its predecessor Daydream Nation
, a masterpiece of guitar fuzz and art rock. Goo being lightly tinged with standard alternative rock and the intense free-form noise toned down, might have shocked the hardcore Daydreamin’
fan. Shocking enough that the pioneers of “Pigfuck
” music were even on the DGC roster in the first place. But suddenly we see bassist/chick-that-does-the-spoken-word-songs Kim Gordon in Gap
ads? Naughty, naughty Kim. Dirty
was released and Sonic Youth showed how dirty they really
are. And that’s not including the picture of naked artists canoodling with plush toy animals under the CD tray. Well, dirty may be the wrong word, but they were certainly doing something un-Youth.
The noise of Sonic Youth’s previous albums is still here, but mainly restricted to what sounds like a cheap, old amp being cut in half by a chainsaw, rather than the storm of violent noise of previous Youth recordings. Guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore still go ballistic at times, as the soothing, mystical, melodic Theresa’s Sound-world
goes into an aggressive climax of screeching guitars and clashing cymbals. The formulaic quiet-loud-quiet-loud of the song gets tiring, a lot of the songs also follow rather standard structures. Hmmm yes, Sonic Youth get a little, dare I say, poppy, on this album. But the pop factor of the band and the disharmony reminiscent of Youth’s earlier career are at constant war with each other. One moment the melodic beauty of Wish Fulfillment
(Ranaldo’s only contribution to the album, despite being the one with the most consistently great songs) the next a full on attack of punk with the infinitely noisy, and dead melodically Nic Fit
, a 59 second song with indecipherable half-shouts half-mumblings for lyrics.
Sonic Youth have always flirted with punk’s raw rapidity, and it comes out in full flow in Dirty
, mainly the songs of Kim Gordon. This is where Dirty
slumps, over half the songs are simple, punk songs sung by the vocally challenged Kim Gordon (she’s not known for spoken word for nothing.) She sings in a growling, hostile voice, sounding like a disgruntled feminist in Swimsuit Issue
or a drunk vixen in, uh, Drunken Butterfly
. The brutally intense guitars that either send out either crunchy alternate tuned chords or Sonic Youth’s trademark drumsticks-on-strings noise, giving the songs some variation. Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit
would be a total loss because of Kim’s insane screeching if it were not for the amusing chorus of “lalalalalalalaluuuuh” and Ranaldo and Moore’s guitar freak outs, featured pretty much exclusively to song interludes. Youth Against Facism
comes as the most punk song, Thurston Moore blatantly attacking the Reagan-era government in a snarling voice over a fuzzy bassline and pick scrapes. Shocking lyrics, not because I thought Sonic Youth were right-wing republican lovers, but because they’re so straightforward for a band known for enigmatically ironic ones.
The pop side of Sonic Youth then comes out on the other songs, left to the calm, confident voice of Thurston, besides Lee’s earnest, melancholic single input or On the Strip
, the only song where Kim calms down and produces a laid back song with a pseudo-R&B chorus. Sugar Kane
, Chapel Hill
are straightforward pop songs disguised in fuzz and overdrive, and each lose themselves in detached, manic instrumental interludes. So how are these catchy chorus’d songs made sugary and slick? Butch Vig of course, adding a smooth gloss over the raw guitars, like putting a Versace gown on a trucker, giving it that Nirvana’s Nevermind
feel. The result on Dirty
is somewhat confusing; raw, yet refined, disharmonious, yet pop filled, mainstream, yet unconventional. Thurston Moore’s songs follow a formulaic structure, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chaos, which gets boring since all the interludes sound the same and the guitars are restrained and always have the same sound. Kim Gordon’s songs sometimes follow the same formula, but just go nowhere at times, like Shoot
a 5 minute song consisting of a bassline and Kim singing about shady business.
Compared to other Sonic Youth albums, it sounds too imitative of the scene of the time and itself. It’s all upfront, the music isn’t too interesting, it doesn’t leave an afterthought of “What was that?” like other Sonic Youth albums. There’s no intrigue, there’s no sexy mystery, it’s like being married to a prostitute for 50 years; yeah it’s kind of weird, but nothing new. Unless you’re not interested in the intriguing wackiness of Sonic Youth, leave this one at the bottom of the “Youth to get” list. If you are, then it’s an enjoyable grungy album. Fans of Sister
and freaky beatniks beware, Dirty
probably isn’t your cup of tea. Or does all that just make it more intriguing than the other albums? Hmmm?