Sonic Youth – The Eternal

We should perhaps forgive bands in the latter stages of their career for being remiss when it comes to the process of evolution. Sonically, The Eternal has a lot in common with its predecessor, Rather Ripped: a lush, somewhat softer sound, but one that still bears all the fuzzy, harmonic hallmarks of a SY recording.

I wanted to be shocked by some kind of great revolutionary statement, but really it’s just business as usual for the New Yorkers. From a strictly musical perspective, it’s hard to say whether this is a good or bad thing, but I’m veering toward the former, because, hey, what’s on offer is still head and shoulders above what many younger bands are currently producing.

In fact, the now fifty-something Youth still manage to sound more politicised, more artistically curious, more honest and more humble than many of those following in their wake. It’s important to realise that they were always more than just a band, anyway – and where they once blazed a trail of innovation in the guitar-rock oeuvre, they continue to work creatively in a host of other mediums, and that the music is part of a wider dialogue with avant-garde art (made explicit on this album with the reference to the beat poet, Gregory Corso, on the track ‘Leaky Lifeboat’).

So if The Eternal is not some tremendous paradigm shift, it’s worth remembering that, as a musical ensemble, such heights were scaled with Daydream Nation all those years ago anyway, and that the new album forms part of a compelling body of work which has always sought to challenge entrenched authoritarian attitudes and political and artistic conventions.

Happily, it still serves up the trademark dissonant interplay of guitars, strong, honey-tinged melodies and the always satisfying counterpoint between Kim and Thurston’s vocals that have been consistent features of their sound for over two decades. And this is no less pleasing than it always was, with ‘Anti-Orgasm’, ‘Malibu Gas Station’ and closing track, ‘Massage The History’, standing out in particular.

It should also be said that I’ve written this after only three or four listens, and that so often with Sonic Youth, it’s only with repeated plays that the finer textures of the music become clearer. After such a cursory glance, it’s safe to say that The Eternal is a good, though perhaps not a great, album from an unquestionably great band.

7.5/10

by Ben Murray, May 2009

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