Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal”

When Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped came out a couple of years ago, wouldn’t you know there were objections to its conventional structure, as in: no songs that noodled.  That it was accessible was a sign of something: if not selling out, then maybe slowing down, as if the Western Massachusetts air was mellowing Kim and Thurston.  Or maybe it was just a sign that Sonic Youth, like many their age, knew what to do and were playing for keeps. Now comes The Eternal, which shoots for the basket and makes it without so much as touching the net, a three-pointer of coherent songwriting, no noodling, and pulsating bass lines.  Don’t worry, chords are off kilter, and tuned to the usual Sonic Youth algorithm, and seriously, have the ever sounded better?

I’ve dutifully bought my 67 Sonic Youth albums, but lost the thrill sometime after “Expressway To Your Skull.”  There were signs of life post-Goo, but The Eternal isn’t just good late SY, it stands up with anything they’ve done since, well, “Death Valley ’69.”  There are traces of Elastica in “Anti-Orgasm,” and genuflections to Fugazi in “Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso).”  This will be scored by the cognoscenti as a bummer, but The Eternal would make a good entry point for those not in the know.

Since the early ’80s, Sonic Youth have had a remarkably stable lineup, and even as they’ve evolved from, well, youth to elder statesman status, they’ve not lost a step, nor a scintilla of hipness.  Twenty-eight years and 16 long-players on, they sound like they’re just warming up.  Eternal, indeed.  And thank Heavens for it.

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