Much like the film A Clockwork Orange, the book Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and British televisions’ very own Jeremy Kyle, Sonic Youth constantly seem to be one of those bands who are only ever regarded as having a ‘cult following’. Not quite mainstream enough, despite their plethora of albums and much revered status in the alternative music world, they have always seemed to have a vague identity, never truly revealing who they are even to the fans that obsess over their extensive discography.
This is a difficult review to write, because I’ve always struggled to get into Sonic Youth’s music. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t there at the time when it started making waves. I know they changed part of the face of music somehow, but it just doesn’t affect me as much as it would do if I was growing up with it. For some reason, despite what people tell me, I just can’t relate to it. Can The Eternal change this apparent sin?
‘Anti-Orgasm’ is a bizarre track, its lyrical themes worn heart on sleeve. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon trade lines (“Anti war/is anti orgasm”) before punctuating it all with a deadpan “uh, uh, uh”, which is just as awkward as it sounds. It’s not too far removed from the uncomfortable silences that follow after you’ve heard someone going at it like there’s no tomorrow. Sex is on the brain for the most part of this album – ‘Calming The Snake’ (yeah, have a guess) opens with Gordon screeching “Come on down/Down to the river/Come on down/I want to feel you shiver” in such a way as to scare any would be mates from said river. Her voice just sounds terrible, quite honestly.
It’s Moore and Gordon’s vocal delivery that ends up being the most infuriating element of The Eternal. The guitar lines are, at times, clever and rather unique, but the half-arsed nature of the vocals just drags everything down into a hazy mire of tedium. It leaves me just longing for the singing to stop, and the instruments to wrap their fuzzy arms around my head, but it’s rare that this happens. ‘Antenna’ indulges this for a brief moment, and it’s a true pleasure, but the rest of the song suffers from repeating the same thing over and over again, like a less desperate version of ‘St. Anger’.
The pace is finally injected with some vitality on ‘What We Know’, a song that sounds as if the band actually stood up to record it. Guitars start whining, the drumming begins to reverberate and even the vocals have some emotion attached to them. It sounds like another song about shagging, but that’s fine by me with the added punch that they give the track.
Sonic Youth still pass me by as an oddity. The Eternal isn’t a terrible album by any stretch of the imagination, but for the most part it plods by with a sense of self worth, and certainly doesn’t answer to me why they have that cult following falling head over heels for this new material. Some songs are made pretty unbearable by Kim Gordon’s tortured (or should that be torturing) howl, and that their strongest lyrical muse seems to be tongue in cheek comments about sexual encounters leaves me cold. Essentially it just doesn’t come off as a record of any particular worth, with the word boring seeming somewhat more appropriate. But, hey, what do I know, I’ll just wait for the fans to tell me how wrong I am, and how my opinion is wrong.
Originally published on Sonic Dice.