Sonic Youth
The Eternal
Label ©  Matador
Release Year  2009
Length  56:28
Genre  Alternative
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  S-0313
Bitrate  ~277 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      Sacred Trickster  
      Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)  
      What We Know  
      Calming The Snake  
      Poison Arrow  
      Malibu Gas Station  
      Thunderclap For Bobby Pyn  
      No Way  
      Walk in Blue  
      Massage The History  
    Additional info: | top
      After years on Geffen Records, Sonic Youth return to an indie label with their sixteenth studio album. "The Eternal" is a supercharged rocker, recalling aspects of the Evol-Sister-Daydream Nation holy trinity, but with cleaner, louder production and more straightforward momentum. With Pavement's Mark Ibold joining on bass, and producer John Agnello back at the controls, "The Eternal" takes the melodic songwriting of 2006's "Rather Ripped" and slams down the accelerator pedal. Initial pressing in a 4-panel wallet with two printed inner sleeves; one containing disc, the other a sticker and card with credits. Subsequent pressings are jewel case. Double LP hyper-deluxe HQ 180 RTI vinyl analog in heavy duty Stoughton gatefold sleeve, printed inner sleeves, and MP3 coupon.

      Pitchfork Review:

      The Eternal, Sonic Youth's 16th album, has nothing to hide. Its strengths and weaknesses are all upfront-- in fact they're pretty well encapsulated in the first two tracks. Opener "Sacred Trickster" is a quick, adrenalized rocker in the vein of 2006's similarly straightforward Rather Ripped. Slamming to a stop after a tight two minutes, the band then tears into "Anti-Orgasm", exploding into biting noise halfway through before the song eventually drifts into beatific, instrumental wandering. It's a familiar move that Sonic Youth have deployed to strong effect many times (try "Pacific Coast Highway" on 1987's Sister or "Rain on Tin" on 2002's "Murray Street for starters). But here it seems to come too soon-- an auto-pilot turn that rings a bit off-key.

      The rest of The Eternal runs through similar cycles of ebb and flow. And while the flow outweighs the ebb, it doesn't always defeat it. Many of the band's signature styles are well-timed: the concise blasts from guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo during the bridge of "Calming the Snake", the slow-building denouement of "Walkin Blue", the acoustic flourishes that give closer "Massage the History" a chilly mood. But sometimes the go-to moves feel forced-- take Moore's stiff rant on "Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn)", or the dead-end bridge of "Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)". The best Sonic Youth albums cohere enough to withstand missteps--sometimes even make virtues out of them-- but here the stutter-steps stick out a bit, putting The Eternal on a middle rung of Sonic Youth's discographical ladder.

      Which still means it's pretty damn good. There's no denying the vitality of songs like "Antenna", a Moore sing-the-guitar-line classic akin to A Thousand Leaves' "Sunday" or Murray Street's "The Empty Page". "Radios play nothing when she's far away/ TV antenna rusts and gone to waste," Moore contemplates, his voice decaying along with his chiming strings. Just as good are two Ranaldo songs, the aforementioned "Walkin Blue"-- a swaying rocker with Beat poet-influenced couplets-- and "What We Know", sort of an elongated update on Rather Ripped's "Rats". "Heaven's not about your reputation," he sings, musing about "stepping across the great divide." Like much of The Eternal, "What We Know" seems fixated on death, loss, and what little can be known about either.

      High points like that might hit harder without some surrounding lags, like the ZZ-Top-on-downers "Poison Arrow", or the weary yeah-yeah's of "Thunderclap (for Bobby Pyn)"-- especially since each of those tunes is followed by a similar, much better track. The chugging guitars of "Malibu Gas Station" trump "Poison Arrow" with sped-up, Television-like twin-guitar, while the wiry energy of "No Way", with its Ramones-ish chorus ("I'm not talking to you no more," chants Moore), echoes classic punk better than "Thunderclap".

      But then it's easy to nitpick with a group that has been this good for this long and always offers a lot to comb through and dissect. Besides, The Eternal could turn out to be a grower. It certainly has happened before with Sonic Youth, whose unique place in rock history-- as a kind of living glue between late-70s post-punk and 90s alternative, 80s DIY indie and 00s net-age, tight pop and improvised noise, hard punk and hippie jams, etc.-- is secure, no matter what time reveals about individual albums. At the very least, some excellent songs lurk among these 12 tracks, and there's enough potential for debate about which are which to make The Eternal worthy of Sonic Youth's singular canon.

      Marc Masters, June 8, 2009
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