Murray Street Enhanced
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As Sonic Youth will testify, it's not easy being avant-rock superstars. Follow your urge to experiment and you risk alienating your more conservative fans. Stop experimenting and you lose the impetus that made you so exciting in the first place. Such is the dilemma faced by this exceptional band in 2002, now wryly rechristened as Radical Adults in one Thurston Moore lyric. Given the bewilderment that's unfairly greeted recent attempts to push their remarkable music to new extremes--notably their contemporary classical project, Goodbye 20th Century-- Murray Street initially feels like something of a compromise; the band themselves admit it's more "song-oriented" than their last few albums. But, hell, what a magnificent compromise. Named after the New York street where their studio is situated--and where a plane engine landed on September 11--Murray Street is potent, accessible, daring and often obliteratingly lovely. For a start, the first three songs ("The Empty Page", "Disconnection Notice" and "Rain on Tin") easily rank alongside the highlights of Sonic Youth's previous 15 albums: obliquely melancholic, tuneful but unorthodox, all enriched by great cascades of intricate three-guitar noise. When the Youth spin off on one of these bright and wild trips, these rich musical elegies for their city, they remain one of the world's great musical wonders. --John Mulvey
In a world where most guitar groups regurgitate mouldy old ideas, floundering ham-fistedly around in a sea of stupidity and borrowed riffs, it's a relief to turn to this intelligent, confident and, dare one say it, tasteful record.
For a start there's the sheer originality of the sound; instantly recognisable from the very first second. These guitars sound like America; lyrical, tuneful, gnarled and ugly, subway trains and wrecked cars. Wide open spaces.
On this album the twist is that the mood is almost a mellow one. There's plenty of extreme sonic attack of course, "Karen Revisited" features an extraordinary moment which sounds like a jet engine colliding with half a dozen fax machines. But the opening track "The Empty Page" sets the tone: reflective, melodic, mature. Throughout, the feedback and noise seem integrated, and oddly beautiful. And for once, both the singing and the lyrics seem exactly right. There's variety enough: as well as long workouts like "Rain On Tin", there's the short sharp punk rock from another galaxy of "Plastic Sun". Newest member Jim O'Rourke, on bass guitar,seems to have given them a new lease of life: his clean production is another plus.
On previous records Sonic Youth were sometimes self indulgent and often patchy. But there's no trace of that here. The whole thing lasts only 47 minutes, a blessed relief in these days of over long, overdone product. If you've never heard them before this is a great place to start. It's one of their best, and an object lesson to any pretender. Quietly they have reasserted their place as not just the Kings and Queen of Underground rock, but as purveyors of one of the most distinctive sounds in music. When the "albums of the year" lists come round, this one will be on them. --Nick Reynolds
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Top customer reviews
Standout tracks for me are Lee's excellent 'Karen Revisited', which touches on psychedelia and has an excellent breakdown at the end, managing to sound both disturbing and beautiful at the same time. Also a standout is the Kim-song, 'Sympathy For The Strawberry', which shows us a different style of her music (harking back to maybe Evol's 'Shadow of a Doubt'). This contrasts nicely with her more punky 'Plastic Sun' earlier on the album. 'Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style' penned by Thurston is also excellent, along with the all of the tracks really.
All in all I think this is one of their most coherent albums and one I would recommend to both Youth and non-Youth fans alike.
"The Empty Page" is another classic Thurston Moore album opener, and it just gets better from there. "Karen Revisited" is a particular highlight, best Lee Ranaldo since "Rain King"? Jim O'Rourke appears to have added an extra dimension with production and extra guitars. Check out the guitars on "Plastic Sun", pure class. Roll on the Summer tour..
It has been said that SY are no longer relevant, that their risks are no longer risks. They only play for their own sonic pleasure. Maybe thats true, but just listen to Murry Street and then stick on Is This It and ask yourself which is more relevant. Which will leave you drained and bored, which will want you asking for more, more, more????!!!!! Sonic Youth are as important as any band around at the moment, they have been for the past two decades. Forget The Strokes, Sonic Youth are THE quintessential New York band. They'll still be making great music when The Strokes, BRMC, Hives, etc, etc are long gone.
Go and get Murry Street now!!!
It seems odd that the current band and their most recent "The Eternal" are hell-bent on sounding raw and ballsy again, when this seemed a real maturing. There are extended guitar jams, jagged riffs and trademark off-kilter melodies - but not wrapped up in experimentation and noise. There's serenity to the sound where the melodies are given room, freed of the ever-cacophonous guitar attack of before. Murray Street sounds unquestionably like a Sonic Youth album - but just older, matured and...relaxed?
Now I'm not saying one is better than the other. I love the attitude and sound of Daydream Nation and Goo, but Murray Street offers a perfect change - a meditative little sister - perfect for times when feedback screeching between pop hooks is not always a necessity.
Song by song:
1. Empty Page: melodious in a 'Sister' style, but including 15 years experience and a beat that'll have you tapping your feet.
2. Disconnection Notice: melodious again, with great mesa-stabs of echo guitar and a glorious guitar-as-modem feedback outro. Wouldn't be out of place on 'A Thousand Leaves.'
3. Rain On Tin: starts weak, three Thurston vocals in a row is a little too much. Get past the vocals and you're rewarded with a lovely sonic workout akin to the quieter parts of 'The Diamond Sea.'
4. Karen Revisited: As ever, Lee provides a consistant level of quality. An awkward start leads into a rocker that could have appeared on 'Daydream Nation' and then descends into pure noise in a manner not dissimilar to Lee's song 'Mote' from 'Goo.'
5.Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style: The stand-out track track on the album, this rocks, screams, experiments and bewitches all at once. Twin horns play Coltrane-style sheets of sound in tandem with the Youth's furious guitar assault. Stunning.
6. Plastic Sun: Kim Gordon's tracks are either (a) amazing or (b) terrible. This is pretty bad, but nowhere near as bad as 'Lightnin'" from the last album. No experimenting, and bad lyrics, this may have been good if sung by Kurt Cobain 10 years ago, but has no place in the SY canon beyond being a B-side.
7. Sympathy For The Strawberry: This sounds unfinished, a sonic jam that would have been on one of the SYR 'snapshot' EP's and then a year later appearing as a finished song on an album. The second weakest song on the album, it is redeemed slightly by Kim's whispered vocals which recall 'Contre Le Sexisme' from 'A Thousand Leaves' and her whispered, multi-layered songs on 'Dirty.'
Looking at the album as a whole, it doesn't hit the heights of 'A Thousand Leaves' or 'Sister' or 'Confusion Is Sex/Kill Yr Idols,' but neither does it fail as 'Bad Moon Rising' did. It ranks somewhere around 'Washing Machine' and 'Evol' - encroaching on brilliant but let down by a few weak tracks.
Don't let the number of songs worry you either, this pulls in at 45 minutes, with one track going over 11 mins so plenty of trademark sonic explorations for long-term fans, and a lot of pretty riffs and melody in the first few songs, making this album the closest SY have come to being radio friendly in about a decade.
Whether the album as a whole will stand up as more than just a bunch of songs (which is where 2000's 'NYC G+F' fell down) will only become clear over time, but it's always good to see the Youth progressing along their own parallel path to popular culture. Recommended for fans of SY or experimental music like Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Mogwai. Straight Rock fans, try Dirty first.
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