or a lot of people, Sonic Youth are New York City in the same way that, once upon a scene, The Velvet Underground were New York City. And like the VU, the Youth are consummate, inveterate bullshitters. Around their circles, it's the law of the land, the legal tender, and the lingua franca: you must have some and the more, the better. Granted, Lou Reed did at least some of that stuff, but sucking tranny cock for fix money? And, honestly, how else do you explain Loaded except to say that Warhol, that master bullshit artist, taught them well indeed? So now the guy who, back in the '80s, demanded that you kill yr idols—did he go out and murder Glenn Branca? Nope, sure didn't. Those vibrant young turks reporting breathlessly from the front lines of the Teenage Riot? They were pushing 30. Now they're well into their 40's, parents and co-op renters, and still calling themselves “Youth” with a straight face. It's all such bullshit. Glorious bullshit.
Come on, you don't need me to tell you that pop music—yes, pop music—requires bullshit. It's a qualification: the further from the dreary grind of reality, the better. Here's what you need for pop music (and bear in mind, I have years of aggregated data on this): hummable melodies, memorable choruses, and consumable myth, the latter known more colloquially as—well, you know. So Loaded was shimmery, jangly, highest-order pop; so is Daydream Nation, and so, most winningly, is Rather Ripped. It's not just their most energetic, immediate, and pop record in a dog's age, it's also—and I love this—their most honest. The Yoof seem to have finally realized their fixed spot in the landscape of modern rock and have all but jettisoned, except where absolutely necessary, the high art pretensions that have weighed down much of their recent output—save Murray Street, the exception that proves the rule—in favor of streamlined, bell-clear FM-radio rock: Badfinger, Thin Lizzy, Big Star.
There's a moment early on, during the Chilton-plus-extra-chug of “Sleepin' Around,” where they break out of playing “On the Street” on spiked 2X4s and bring on the solos. Lee does what Lee does—that shred of electrical shocks—but then out of nowhere there is magic, and for 20 seconds, Thurston comes back, rips his shirt off, hits a perfect two-point rock stance, and turns into no less an eminence than Joe Freakin' Perry. It isn't just Rock, it's Rock Without Prejudice, fearlessly straightforward, heedlessly tuneful, and catchy as Hell. Of course, “straightforward” for Sonic Youth still entails some bullshit, but instead of their usual bullshit about “art,” Ripped is bullshit about sex: loose women, aloof boys, femme fatales. Good old rock-and-roll bullshit.
“Pink Steam” slips a florid tale of fucking a lover's daughter into, basically, “Total Trash” with better guitars and a stronger hook. “What a Waste” reanimates the Cars with added buzz and a raging girl-boner for a boy oh-so-scared of Kim (choice lyric: “let's engage in dull creation”). Static splatters and sweeps across the chorus, one of the decidedly few moments where the boys do the noise, beefing up the chorus. They coat “Rats” with the stuff, and heave-ho a noise-bomb onto the end of the spangly, crusty Bread of “Turquoise Boy” to increasing returns, all the more surprising and invigorating for its rarity.
Even the ballads, like “Do You Believe in Rapture?” (yes, really), snarl and spit at least a little, with sharp little strums and a heartbeat drum machine. But it's the Rock—and not just in concept—that rules this album. Around the time of Murray Street, Thurston proclaimed that it was their tribute to the mainstream rock of their younger days. That was bullshit. Now he contends that this one is just like any other Sonic Youth record. That's bullshit too. This is their radio-rock record, and it's not a tribute, it's as close to the real thing as they've come since they actually had a chance at radio play back in the '90s. And it's certainly not just any other Youth record; it flexes muscles most of us thought had atrophied in them long ago, if they ever had them at all. Best of all, it's plain and obvious that they're having real, no-bullshit, total fun all over the place, and it's infectious. Rather Ripped isn't a bunch of middle-agers grasping for their teenage kicks again, it's adults having an adult time and loving every minute of it. It's the sound of growing old gracefully.
Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2006-06-12