It's 2006, and Sonic Youth are entering their poppiest phase ever. This is the band whose 1998 "we don't know nuthin' about no shoegaze" album "A Thousand Leaves" was named after the band's humourously serious desire to make a thousand albums together. Bands who know that their fans will sustain them from now until eternity don't give themselves cause to worry when they make statements like that. Those same fans will support them through their Greatful Dead phase ("Murray Street"), their mid-90's avant-wank phase (uh, the SYR releases, "NYC G&F" and a bunch of other stuff I'm probably forgetting) and just about anything else that is thrown at them.
So, Sonic Youth can pretty much do whatever they want. Kelly Clarkson wouldn't sound out of place contributing guest vocals on many of these songs (OK, I'm exaggerating there, but hey, let's see what Kelly sounds like in two album's time). It's a pretty album, which puts in its own category of Sonic Youth albums, along with "Sister". There isn't a single strained vocal that makes me cringe (SY albums usually have two or three of these) -- not even on the Kim Gordon tracks! It's full of 3-4 minute breezy tunes that would sound brilliant on the radio with the convertible top down in the sunshine, which is why (call me crazy) this should have been the follow-up to "Daydream Nation". If SY wanted to jump to a major label, make a splash, and get their songs on the radio in an era when alt-rock was starting to take off, they needed "Rather Ripped", not "Goo", in order to do it.
But it doesn't sound like a wild departure -- the echimings of their oddly-tuned guitars make "Rather Ripped" instantly recognizable as a SY album. And don't let this post fool you into thinking that this isn't a noisy album. There are plenty of noisy moments, but they're static Branca-esque riffage rather than epic solos fuzzily plucked over the course of seven minutes. Oddly enough, I was listening to the Theoretical Girls album only yesterday -- what's old is new again!