By David M. Goldstein | 29 June 2009
It took them twenty-six years and roughly fifteen (noisenik SYR series notwithstanding) studio records to get there, but Sonic Youth have finally phoned one in. Wade through the pre-release hype promising “death-metal hooks” and all degrees of newfound awesomeness now that they’re on Matador, and you’ll find in The Eternal arguably the first Sonic Youth record that’s merely a less interesting facsimile of the one that preceded it, in this case 2006’s Rather Ripped. Call it EternIll Communcation, if you will. Or don’t; I will.
Simply put, there’s a significant lack of freshness in store—it reeks—which would be much easier to excuse if the band compensated with substantial hooks. But nearly everything resembling catchy is oddly relegated to the final four songs, and then The Eternal‘s mid-section drags unconscionably, with “Calming the Snake,” “Poison Arrow,” and “Malibu Gas Station” maybe the closest Sonic Youth has come to writing a setlist for their tribute band. The uplifting lilt and ringing guitar line of Thurston Moore’s “Antenna” is probably the album’s most immediate track, though it loses coolness points (and relevance) for essentially being a slower rewrite of “Sugarkane” from Dirty (1992).
Of course, even when they’re obviously coasting, Thurston and Kim are talented enough to put together a reasonably enjoyable record that absolutely sounds like Sonic Youth™, even if the shelf life on every one of these tracks probably won’t outlast the year: they’re the Citigroup of indie rock n’ roll, too big to truly fail. Unfortunately, the band is still in the “pick one chord and churn-n-burn” mode they beat to death on Rather Ripped, but Steve Shelley’s drums are mic’ed really well for some reason. Husband and wife playfully share vocal duties on a few songs, and the two Lee Ranaldo songs completely (and expectedly) slay.
Really, everything is utterly in its right place on The Eternal, which is also its most glaring flaw, and its this lack of the new that makes it kind of a bummer, though, at the least, a pleasant one. You can bet that Sonic Youth will put out another record in two years and they’ll spend the ensuing summer (no tours when Coco has school) touring the crap out of it. You can bet they’ll continue to make parenthetical dedications to the beat poets in their song titles. They’re living legends with utterly nothing left to prove, but it’s sad that they’ve released an album that makes this so apparent.