Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth. Oh, how I love thee. So, so much. But The Eternal is formulaic and a little boring.
With the exception of “Malibu Gas Station” and “Poison Arrow” most of the songs seem like gumbo- different excerpts from the giant book by Sonic Youth called “Sonic Youth” thrown together haphazardly. The songs don’t hold together well. And the long psyched-out track that is often the touchstone of a Sonic Youth album (think “Turquoise Boy” from Rather Ripped or “Rain on Tin” from Murray Street), “Massage the History” on The Eternal is mediocre and anti-climactic.
And then there are the vocals. Maybe Thurston’s voice just ain’t what it used to be- but on this album he sounds strained; like he’s reaching for something that’s not there. On “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso),” the sound drops out from under him in what could be considered dramatic. But his vocals and lyrics are not up to the task.
This is odd though, because Thurston’s solo album from last year, Leaves Outside the Academy was fantastic. The songwriting was strong and the lyrics dramatic and serious.
On the bright side, there’s Lee Ranaldo. His two contributions, “What We Know” and “Walkin Blue,” are the strongest tracks on the whole album. Lee has an idea and goes with it, which is more than can be said about the songs by Kim and Thurston.
Here’s what’s so strange about all of this. The album isn’t bad by any means, it’s enjoyable, what’s strange is that the band is going on and on and doing tons of promo about their leaving Geffen, a major, and moving to Matador, an indie, and about all the freedom they have now. But The Eternal isn’t a huge departure from their other recent work. It’s not boldly different or throwing them out on a limb. In fact, it’s almost cleaner and less crazy than their Geffen albums.
The move to Matador was a publicity stunt, perhaps. A way to do tons of interviews and dominate Pitchfork for an entire week.
Are Sonic Youth finally getting older?? They’ve always been media dogs and pop culture seekers. The fact that Kim and Thurston watch Gossip Girl is not surprising. What is surprising is that for the first time, their music seems to be suffering.