Daydream Nation (1988) *****
I hate this band and even I have to admit that this is a masterpiece, one of the essential classic rock double LPs (I'm not the only one nostalgic for the days when that meant something; somehow an hour-plus length CD doesn't carry the same magic, the epic sense of potential sweep and sprawl that the term "double album" conjures). But epic sprawl is not the reason this album is so cherished; the adjective 'eclectic' does not apply to Sonic Youth, it's that rarity - a classic rock double album in which all the songs are performed in the same style, SY wisely deciding not to take advantage of extra breathing room to attempt any wacky offbeat genre experiments (OK, there is the spoken word piece, "Providence," which is indeed as rotten as is much-maligned reputation - we shall speak of this song no more forever). Oh, it's not as if it "all sounds the same," the songs are all built on individually memorable riffs; the songs just stick to the patented Sonic Youth style. The sound is still noisy, but the noise is much more honed and polished than on previous indie label outings; on their final record for SST, Sonic Youth actually recorded an album with an actual recording budget - they allegedly spent more money producing this album than all their previous albums combined, and it shows. Perhaps that's why it's the Sonic Youth album that's held up as their crowning achievement: it's cleaned up just enough for accessibility, with actual riffs, rhythms, and melodies emerging from out of the noise, but they have yet to lose their indie-rock fire and edge.
They are conventional enough to open the album with the two strongest songs, the Lou Reed-ish pulsator "Teenage Riot", and the punchy riff-fest "Silver Rocket." "You've got it / Burnin' hand in your pocket / Ride, ride the silver rocket!" - where did these guys get the reputation for being smart? I know, I know, it's self-consciously post-ironic post-modernist Gen X intentional D-U-M-B-ness, "Total Trash", as they sing over recycled '70s cock rock riffage, but that still doesn't mean that you don't sound stupid. You don't listen to Sonic Youth for Kim Gordon's sullen pouting in "Kissability," you listen for the moment when, right after she shouts, "Give us a kiss!" the guitars screech WHEEDLY-WHEE! "Eric's Trip," and "Rain King," are sort of throwaways, I guess, but the sliding melody and translucent guitars of "Candle" are just lovely, and the closing "Trilogy" (it's just three separate songs randomly stitched together, they don't fit together for any compelling reason) hangs together fine, even if "Eliminator Jr." sounds like ZZ Top (de-uhr, just look at the title). Sonic Youth are a difficult band to love and an easy target to hate, but a classic is a goshdarn classic.