Sonic Youth – The Eternal [7/10]

It’s like a ridiculous weight on your shoulders: the expectation that your next album has to be just as amazing as the last. Too many bands succumb to the temptation of more money and a full orchestra on offer when going to record their second album. But that’s a load of waffle really isn’t it? Sonic Youth never were, and probably never will be, the band that conforms to expectations from the industry and fans – they have legacy stretching nigh on thirty years now, one littered with some of the most influential albums of the past fifty years (see Goo and Daydream Nation), and the few that failed to live up to the aforementioned level (Rather Ripped). Now they make their return with The Eternal released on Matador after their contract with Universal expired, the change of label seemingly reinvigorating the 80’s punk spirit that made them so prominent in the first place. The album kicks off with lead single ’Sacred Trickster’, a four-to-the-floor storm of discord and screaming guitars that harks back to the ‘Teenage Riot’ years, all finished in just over two minutes. There’s the art-stomp of ‘Anti-Orgasm’, all synchronised grunts from Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore and shouts of “anti-war is anti-orgasm!”. The licence for poetic freedom seems to have returned but by the time the album reaches ‘Antenna’, the clashes in sound are starting to become overbearing – minor chords clash with fuzzed out bass riffs, harmonic scrapes over meaningless delay noise, Gordon seemingly screeching over the top. ‘What We Know’ brings in a new direction, post-punk drums beats layered with dual guitars and the meaningless no-wave banter that ultimately becomes the most engaging track on the album. From then on though, it’s just business as usual before ‘Malibu Gas Station’, a charming and quiet sea of exquisite delay-heavy harmonies prior to surf-style licks, Gordon actually singing for once and the effect is somewhat hypnotising. Perhaps this is the real Sonic Youth? Droning squalls and freeform noise that eventually becomes more akin to a degraded lullaby than the teenage garage-band kicks that we come to expect. By the time final track ‘Massage the History’ ends the album with a near 10-minute psychedelic freakout, the feeling of reluctance and alienation is just that little bit too strong. The lack of melody (not to mention the little diversity in drum beats) seems to give over to a sense of “I’m arty – go fuck yourselves” indignation and the feeling that maybe – just maybe – Sonic Youth have passed their prime.

:: James Donaldson

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