After watching their contemporaries break up, burn out or otherwise lose traction over the last 29 years, Sonic Youth have easily earned the right to name their newest album The Eternal. Despite the lofty, self-confident chaos of their early '80s output, it's hard to believe anyone in the band anticipated they'd have such a solid, successful career and be able to take credit for some of the most seminal albums of the '80s, '90s and beyond. Or that the same year they released their 16th album, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore would get their own signature Fender Jazzmasters. Talk about "respectability"!
Then again, they probably also never imagined that Ranaldo's hair would ever get so white. But indeed, here they are — older, wiser but still happy to pummel your ears with treble-heavy, sonic assaults mixed with the hooks and thrills they've so masterfully perfected over the years. The question is, however, is it too perfected? Although the disc shares a lot of similarities with past classics like Sister and Daydream Nation, it, of course, isn't 1988 anymore. This is the Internet age, after all — and bands with graduate degrees in "Sonic Youth Studies" are now elbowing their way to the front of the stage, competing with their old idols. When Kim Gordon sings, "I want you to levitate me, don't you love me yet?" on opener "Sacred Trickster," she could be talking to any number of young music fans, demanding their respect while subsequently vying for their affection.
But The Eternal isn't a record that can really be assessed with one listen or a snippet off a tastemaker music site. It's actually a sonically rich, smart, rewarding record — easily as formidable as anything since 2002's acclaimed Murray Street. So pay some homage to your elders by taking the time to listen to The Eternal. And don't forget to turn up the treble!
Sonic Youth plays Monday, June 29, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980
Laura Witkowski reviews music for Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].