Sonic Youth

DGC Records, 1992


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Ever since I took on this project for New Year's Eve, I've been discovering in the Pierce Archives many records, tapes and CDs that I bought for no specific reason. Sometimes, I didn't know the group - hell, sometimes, I didn't like the group - yet here, collecting dust, are the purchases that I can no longer explain.

Exhibit "S": Sonic Youth, whose work I was first exposed to in college radio via the single "Kool Thing". And after my first taste, I decided I wasn't particularly fond of Thurston Moore and crew. Yet, while digging up some choice nuggets for this project, there sat their 1992 album Dirty - whatever made me decide to buy this in the first place?


It's probably been a good five years since I last listened to this tape, but the time away from it has helped to sharpen my tastes towards what Sonic Youth have been trying to do with their music. With producer Butch Vig behind the controls (the first time Sonic Youth used an outside producer), Dirty proves itself to be an interesting, if not a tad confusing, listen.

While there is still quite a bit of ambient noise that makes up Sonic Youth's music, they now show they're not afraid to craft a tune with - egads! - chordal structure. (It sounds for the most part like guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Moore aren't doing as many experimentations with alternate tunings - though there still are some weird sounds on Dirty.)

Tracks like "100%," "Drunken Butterfly," "Sugar Kane" and "Shoot" all show quite a bit of musical maturity among Sonic Youth (Ranaldo, Moore, bassist Kim Gordon and drummer Steve Shelley). Admittedly, Sonic Youth's style has to grow on the listener - and it's not always the easiest process to go through. But the effort proves to be worth it in the end. Before you know it, you'll be enjoying tracks like "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit" and "On The Strip," even if you don't quite grasp what these songs are supposed to be about.

The only real difficulty with Dirty is that you have to really be paying attention to the track listing and what's happening on the album; otherwise, it's real easy to get lost in this album. Once you lose your footing, it's real hard to figure out when you reach the track "Creme Brulee" until the song ends and silence again overtakes the room.

To the purists, Dirty might be seen as a rejection of everything that Sonic Youth had worked towards in the early part of their career. I would respectfully disagree, and argue that the music, while different, is a natural progression for the band. It's not so much an embracing of more conventional music than a discovery that their tonal experimentation can fit into the structure of more conventional alternative rock.

Dirty is an album that took six years for me to enjoy, but I think now I'm more prone to picking up other Sonic Youth albums - and this time, I'll know why I'm buying them in the first place.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of DGC Records, and is used for informational purposes only.