Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sonic Youth - Confusion is Sex

Sonic Youth 

Confusion is Sex (1983):  I've always hated this band.  OK, so Daydream Nation had its moments, but none of the other half dozen albums I've heard by them do anything but irritate me.  Their debut long player is no exception.  Even the track listing pisses me off – the songs aren't listed in correct order on the back cover, making me have to do that much extra work to figure out which title matches which song (which isn't that hard to do, actually, most of these songs have an identifiable chorus phrase).  There's a cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" that sounds like it's emanating from inside a garbage can with a scraping violin trying to claw the lid open, which is actually pretty awful but since "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is the greatest song of all time (this is objective fact; look it up), it's impossible to destroy.  That's the high point.  The low point is "Lee is Free" – that's the name of their drummer – that sounds like a two-year old banging around in the kitchen.  No, I'm not exaggerating, that's what the closing track literally consists of.  I wonder if they put the royalties for that toddler into a trust for college?

See, that's one difference between SY and the Fall, a similar sounding band that was a big influence (google "Psycho Mafia" and "Rowche Rumble" on youtube; Sonic Youth's cover versions aren't very good but at least respectable stabs.  Truly bizarre/awful is the Youth's version of the Kinks' "Victoria", kid you I not).  The Fall are above all a ferociously rhythm-driven band, with more killer bass lines in their career than any other band this side of James Jamerson.  Sonic Youth might as well not even have a rhythm section at all.  I can't remember a single memorable bass line Kim Gordon has ever plunked – she stereotypes "let me find my no-talent girlfriend a place to take up some token space in the band, guys, the bass is easy cuz it only has four strings".  And that's another difference – Mark E. Smith is a great vocalist (note I didn't say 'singer', I wouldn't go that far).  He may sound like a cranky old drunk ranting at the barstool, but that's his charm.  Nobody in Sonic Youth is a remotely compelling vocalist.  Kim always sings in a bored, sullen monotone and so does Thurston Moore only less distinctively so.  So what you're left with is a pile of distorted, clanging guitars creating a moody din, which sometimes can be interesting if attached to compellingly formed songs, otherwise Sonic Youth can come across as punk rock's answer to New Age (especially on their post-menopausal '90s and '00s records).  This one was recorded when the Youth in their Sonic wasn't entirely meant ironically, so it's got some actual energy to it.  But the songs are mostly uninteresting and uncompelling, so it's a boring, cling clangy drag. **

P.S.  I was just kidding about "Lee is Free".  Not about it sucking, though.

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