Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: The Eternal
Released: June 9, 2009
Label: Matador Records
Rating: 8 / 10
The Eternal is a great mix of what Sonic Youth has been known for. Their use of feedback, clashing guitar riffs and instrumental breaks are all there. The Eternal contains more profound lyrics and is much more accessible than their last album, Rather Ripped. While some listeners came staggering in with 2006’s Rather Ripped, this is precisely where Sonic Youth reclaims a once massive fan-base and air wave dominance.
Sonic Youth has been putting out critically acclaimed albums since the early eighties. With every release reviewers, both professional and amateur, enthusiastically wrote about the band’s style and eloquence. Many reviewers seem to claim that a band with such a large collection of distinguished titles behind them could do no wrong. Unfortunately for listeners, bands will often do wrong and no band has acquired an immunity to such horrendous acts.
Nearly all of the well-established music reviewers gave Sonic Youth’s last album, Rather Ripped, spectacular ratings: 80 out of 100, four to six stars – depending on the ranking system; very few had any critique of the band, if at all. The last album was aptly titled. The album was and is amazing and did and still does deserve the remarkable ratings, though the praise may have been premature.
The opening track, “Sacred Trickster,” places the album’s Achilles’ heel right up front. It only has two possible saviors: The fact that it serves perfectly, through the opening instrumentation, as an introductory track and possibly the line “I wish I could be / Music on a tree.” The track welcomes listeners back and pulls them in before they know it, as the song ends in just over two minutes.
Following the opening track is “Anti-Orgasm,” which highlights the band as a modern contender. Sonic Youth have always been able to write “people watching” lyrics. They comment on the world, not necessarily holding to a specific opinion. Just as the lyrics suggest, “Anti-war (is anti-orgasm).” While I would venture to guess the band doesn’t take a pro-war stance, they certainly understand the chaos involved in both, war and sex.
Of course, the band does have some moments of recalling their past. “Calming the Snake” seems as if it may be retrofitted from 1987’s Sister. “Poison Arrow” narrowly escapes, through the use of composition and vocal styling, from being pegged as poor lyric writing. “Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn),” written for Jan Paul Beahm (Darby Crash, Bobby Pyn) of the late band The Germs, is a short, well orchestrated, even at times of chaos, ode to a fellow punk musician. It’s one of the best tracks from the album. The closing track “Massage the History” is artistic in its own way, but also a misstep of the band.
A primary concern, however, is the reappearance of the term “overview” in many reviews for not only Sonic Youth’s newest album, but for albums of the recent past. This suggests that the last few albums were merely statements of “look at what we’ve done in the past.” Not unlike Yo La Tengo’s 2006 release, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. That album actually was a sort of overview or survey course in Yo La Tengo. Rather Ripped, The Eternal and others are not this type of album. While reviewers and listeners do like to see growth and maturity, they seem to be expecting more than what is actually necessary. With the time taken to listen to the album fully, it is obvious that Sonic Youth has grown and has matured in their two decades of recording. Never has consistently releasing great albums been detrimental to a band.