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Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse

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Artist: Sonic Youth

Album: Sonic Nurse

Label: DGC

Review date: May. 26, 2004

Sonic Youth is a remarkably difficult band to cover. Reviews rarely do their music justice, and their magninfied status in modern music makes every piece a potential firestarter, like Amy Phillips' Murray Street review from 2002. Never have so many hipsters been more upset over a thousand words.

So where does this review fit in? I could write nothing but (deserving) praise for Sonic Nurse, but there's no sense in writing another mindless one-sheet. It would be easy to write paragraph after paragraph of anemic prose, hyperanalyzing every aspect of every song, offering anecdotes about my personal sonic youth, and proposing hollow generalizations about the universe, but I'll leave that for others who have read more Lester Bangs. Instead, I'll just offer a few modest observations about Sonic Nurse.

What is most immediately striking about Sonic Nurse is the return of Kim Gordon. On Murray Street, she blended into the background, the new guy having taken over most of her duties. When she did take the mic, it was on a Thurston Moore penned song ("Plastic Sun," incidentally the weakest song on the album). Now, she's back, starring on a whopping four with some of her best songwriting to date. "Pattern Recognition" has her snarling on par with Washing Machine's "Becuz" over an equally rocking and gnarly bed of typical Sonic Youth guitar work. "Dude Ranch Nurse" and "I Love You Golden Blue" are breathy reminders of Nico, though it is odd to hear the pseudosexual come-on of "Dude Ranch Nurse." Her Mariah Carey rant, "Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream," in its violence, basic power chords, and simplistic lyrics would probably have fit in on Dirty, but seems out of place here.

After abandoning the epic length dissonance of Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth seems to have been gradually trying to find a way back to it in recent years. And given their recent melodiousness (though not in the traditional sense), the journey has not been entirely easy. A Thousand Leaves tried but lacked focus; was missing the songcraft; and though Murray Street took the melodic epic to an extreme, it occasionally verged on indulgence.

Sonic Nurse is the happy medium they've been craving. The songs, despite being mostly over five minutes long, are all to the point without feeling meandering. And even the shortest of them, "Unmade Bed," feels much longer than its four minutes. The balance between noise and melody is right, with each emerging and vanishing at just the right point. Perhaps this is because they've finally grown comfortable in their new, post-equipment theft guise, a band that doesn't have to be at the forefront of musical innovation to have worthwhile statements.

Maybe that's why Amy Phillips wanted them to hang it up. Sonic Youth is finally content to be Sonic Youth, and this album proves that they've once again figured out their formula. The tempos might be a little slower, the aggression a bit more tempered, the melodies slightly more at the fore, but the songs aren't that fundamentally different from those that made them who they are. And, no, that doesn't mean they've reached the point of creative stagnation. If they were still making the anthems of their youth, then we could talk. But as Lee Ranaldo said in an interview from 2002, "It's really hard for me to say why there aren't as many true rock songs. When we were making those early nineties records like Goo and Dirty, we were also hanging out with a crowd that was very much steeped in rock n roll. but most of the stuff we have been interested in [recently] has been in another realm."

Whatever the realm of their inspiration, they are still indelibly Sonic Youth, and deserving of the significance that comes with it.

By Dan Ruccia

Other Reviews of Sonic Youth

Murray Street

Goo [Deluxe Edition]

Rather Ripped

Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition)

The Eternal

Simon Werner a Disparu OST

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View all articles by Dan Ruccia

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