who remain relevant years after their commercial peak are a rare breed. If they don't burn out
in their youth, they almost always end up leaving you shaking your head thinking “What happened?” Iggy Pop
is a prime example. Decades after starting one of the first and most innovative punk bands
in the history of rock music, he now attempts to cash in on his former success while attempting to appeal to younger generations by collaborating with bands like Sum 41
. Similar examples are countless.
Four years ago, along with their release NYC Ghosts & Flowers, it looked as though Sonic Youth were headed into obscurity like so many before them. The album's lack of vocal melodies combined with aimless, self-indulgent guitar work made it the band's most frustrating record to date. Looking back, it seemed ridiculous that Sonic Youth could follow their most disappointing album with arguably one of their best, but that's exactly what they did with the release of Murray Street in 2002. Abandoning the dirty, dreamy sounds of their late 90's releases, the band began a new era of catchier and stronger rock songs. Of course pessimists might say that Murray Street was a fluke and the band will continue it's descent into obscurity, but anyone who has studied the band should know better. The band's latest release, Sonic Nurse, builds upon the strength of Murray Street and proves that even after over two decades, a band can still create innovative, relevant records.
The first listen through Sonic Nurse isn't striking. Not in the way Murray Street was. The length of the record is somewhat responsible for this. It's a lot of music to swallow. There is an over abundance of great moments on the record, which makes the first few listens overwhelming. Subsequent listens become more rewarding, even more so than Murray Street. In particular this is true for the the tracks that feature Kim Gordon on vocals. On “Mariah Carey and the Aruthur Doyle Hand Cream” Gordon revamps the style of “Plastic Sun” from Murray Street and adds lyrics about yet another unstable female celebrity. And she actually sings on this record. “I Love You Golden Blue” is one of the prettiest Sonic Youth songs recorded since Daydream Nation; displaying Gordon's rarely seen melodic side.
Thurston Moore is as strong as he's ever been. The bulk of his songs emphasize his voice and lyrics instead of his guitar work. Songs like “Unmade Bed” and “Peace Attack” show that Moore has been focusing on songwriting rather than noise making. “Unmade Bed”, which the band perhaps jokingly describes as being about a Texas frat boy, shows a storytelling side that rarely comes out of the band. His approach to political protest has changed as well. Abandoning the forceful anger of his classic protest song “Youth Against Fascism”, Moore chooses to take an observant route on “Peace Attack”. This gives the song a much longer shelf life than the average protest song. If more musicians followed Moore's lead, maybe political songs wouldn't be so easily dismissed.
It's rewarding to be a fan of a band that continues to be creative after more than twenty years of making music. Whether or not the creativity will last two more decades is uncertain. Another NYC Ghosts & Flowers could potentially be in the works. It seems unlikely, but either way, fans of the band should take comfort in the fact that at least they'll never have to hear the Sonic Youth/Sum 41 collaboration.