Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Geffen CD)

Yeah, as if you need to read another review of the new Sonic Youth record. As if. Besides, what is this, Spin magazine? I ain't no Qualified Reviewer, I just string adjectives together! But. I spoze it's only fair that if I'm reviewing a bunch of bands raised on Sonic Youth (and who, at one point or another, probably opened for them) I might as well mention that the real deal have released a new record, their 14th legit studio LP by my count, and potentially their last one for the Geffen label. But then maybe they'll jump ship to join Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace! label on Universal, so how much better is that in the long run?
All right enough of that. I'll try to keep this short because for once I genuinely don't have a lot of time and there are a plethora of other, more competant reviewers who actually know a thing or two about chords and bridges and whatnot that could do a way better job than I ever could. Anyway I'm sure the Wire has told you by now that this SY LP is of important because Jim O'Rourke isn't on it and it shows - the average song length of the 12 tracks is 4 minutes and 18 seconds, and not one of them is led by Thurston going El Freakazoid on his guitar. Bummer? Not really. I don't think there are too many people listening to Sonic Youth anymore expecting the band to do something outrageously left-field, especially when you take the sound of 2004's "Sonic Nurse" into account. That kind of stuff seems reserved for the SYR label and appearances at the No Fun Fest nowadays with the "mature" SY taking the driver's seat.
The album opens in similar fashion to "Nurse" with a Kim Gordon-fronted track, "Reena". In fact the song itself is strikingly similar to "Pattern Recognition" from "Nurse". The music is bouncy and energetic while the vocals are vintage Kim - sultry and subdued. The lyrics, as with most all of the lyrics here, are take em or leave em (maybe I've just been listening to too much instrumental stuff these days). I dunno, sometimes they just seem kinda...awkward. I'm sure they'll wind up into more than a few MySpace profiles so no worries there.
"Incinerate" and "What a Waste" both share similar ground - slightly more aggressive and definitely more "rock" SY tunes, but infused with a healthy dose of pop. The difference is that Moore does vocals on the former and Gordon on the latter. Thurston's vocals are particularly attractive in a kind of disarmingly wimpy sense. Is this guy really 40? Still looks and sounds 14, man. Speaking of Moore, he also does vocals on track number three (and hands down album highlight) "Do You Believe in Rapture?". It's so fragile it makes your heart ache and swell - particularly when the delicate rumbling metamorphoses into pure pop bliss.
Other songs follow in similar suit. Signature jangly Sonic Youth guitars ("The Neutral", "Pink Steam", "Turquoise Boy"), a sturdy rhythm section ("Rats", "Jams Run Free"), and vocals that jump from emotive to bordering on snotty (album closer "Or", "Lights Out", "Do You Believe in Rapture?"). One instantly notable trait of the album is the amount of tracks Kim Gordon fronts. Thurston does six (half the album) while Kim handles five. The lone anomaly is Lee Ranaldo's "Rats".
It's almost uncanny how vaguely familiar all these songs are. The best music is the music that sounds like the artist plucked it straight out of the sky - it's always been there, just waiting to be put to tape. This is what gives "Rather Ripped" it's strength - although this is by far Sonic Youth's poppiest effort to date, it's equally successful because it doesn't come off sounding forced. Like it or not, these were songs SY were meant to write. And in my belly, well that sits just fine thanks.


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