Sister (1987) ****
What wonders gaining a real drummer will do for a band. Or maybe it's just that they're finally learning how to write real songs - the opener, "Schizophrenia," sounds anything but like the title, it's pleasing, mid-tempo pop! The clangy, detuned guitar fuzz can't cover up the sweetly melodic center. Not that they're necessarily all that talented at writing pop/rock songs - "Catholic Block,"'s chorus is kind of stupid, with a dumbed-down cock rock riff to match. But it's not bad or anything, just kinda dumb. For such allegedly sophisticated boho poseurs, the Sonics-not-so-Youthy (Kim was already pushing 40 at this point) sure do sound painfully dimwitted at times. Any time Kim Gordon opens her mouth, for example - as usual, the songs she sings are the lowest of the low points, and it doesn't help that "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder," is slow. SY's trick bags of guitar effects weren't versatile or interesting enough at this point in their development for them to successfully cover up the fact that they did not, never had, and never will have the first clue how to write a good slow song, one that isn't an amateurishly gloomy basement dirge. Well, it's not as if you're looking at a Sonic Youth record for the songwriting, are you? Truth told, the generic indie rock melodies are kinda generica, and the ferocious rockers - anybody can write a ferocious rocker, it's how you perform a rocker that matters. Which is why the likes of "Catholic Block," succeed in spite of themselves; the guitar riffs may not shake the earth, but they're gauzed up in such interesting noises. The detuned guitar effects aren't extraneous embellishments to the songs; the noises are inextricable from the riffs and melodies, they are the songs, they are the groove. Neat noise tricks are the sole reason for Sonic Youth's existence, but this album shows that those noises are so much more effectively deployed when wrapped around a few actual songs. And to think that for a time I thought that the '77 punk rock obscurity, "Hot Wire My Heart," was the best song - it's not, it's just the most obvious. And since obvious usually equals D-U-M-B when we're talking Sonic Youth, I should theoretically change my mind and announce it the worst song? Nah, it's not, it's pretty rockin'. But still pretty dumb.