Thursday, May 20, 2010

74. Rather Ripped

74. Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth (DGC, 2006)

Sessions for the NYC noiseniks’ fourteenth full-length studio LP began with the group once again a four-piece, temporary fifth member Jim O’Rourke (see #77) having left the group after touring behind the ’04 Sonic Nurse. Rather Ripped would be their ninth and final Geffen studio release since their 1990 major-label debut with the company.  Described by Thurston Moore as a “super song record,”* the album boasts an immediacy making for the group’s poppiest, most accessible outing since ’92’s Dirty, even when its handful of ballads are considered.  The urgency of many of the songs comes from stripped-down, streamlined playing largely absent among their last several albums’ pensive art-rock.  The lyrics too suggest a new approach, often skipping a tendency for abstract, beat-poet metaphor.  A handful of songs unflinchingly address relationships, lending the record a theme of domestic scrutiny that was a striking change of pace for Sonic Youth and, though no claim is made to autobiography, particularly interesting considering the real-life marriage of band members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.  The album’s vinyl version, pictured here, came housed in a textless, monochromatic variation of the fully titled blood-red compact disc release, suggesting an old mimeographed punk gig flyer; the outdated computer fonts inside harkened back to ’80s Sonic releases like Master-Dik and The Whitey Album; then, there was the message “goodbye sonic” on side one’s label; all of this provided additional intrigue: one could almost believe the band was giving a nod to the old days before breaking up, until realizing the goodbye message was plastered over an old photo of soon-to-be-former boss David Geffen.  Rather Ripped--named for a long-defunct Berkeley record store--is no bastion of secret symbolism, but simply the decade’s most direct, unfettered Sonic Youth recording.

The album blasts open with two of the most propulsive numbers of the band’s career, the Gordon-sung Reena and Moore’s Incinerate.  Both songs are tightly wound, with straight-on, four-on-the-floor drumming from Steve Shelley and clean, speed-strummed guitar licks by Moore.  “It’s four alarm, girl, there’s nothing to see/Hear the sirens come for me,” Moore sings in Incinerate, immolated by a witchy lover.  Guitarist and third singer Lee Ranaldo contributes Rats, another charged number and the album’s most complex lyric, its three bridges and choruses structured differently like a prose poem, about a toxic push-and-pull relationship always ebbing back to the point “when your love has died/and you rat on me.”  The album’s most uncharacteristic song is the seven-minute, Moore-sung Pink Steam.  It opens with a dark, heady groove, almost bluesy, before an extended guitar solo whose melody echoes the eventual vocal line that does not kick in until the song’s five-minute mark.  The lyric sheet on the band’s Web site (there is none included with the album) denotes the line, “I’m the man who loves you mother,” but this is easily heard as “I’m the man who loves your mother”; taken as the latter, the lyric turns the song into a creepy depiction of preying on a girlfriend’s daughter.  Jams Run Free, a Gordon vocal of an impressionist Moore lyric, provides the album’s centerpiece; “I love/The way/You move/I hope it’s not too late for me,” she sings, the album’s tense interpersonal analyses put on hold for a testimony to sheer feeling.  Ending the record is Moore’s hushed Or, a tender denouement imagining a young fan’s awkward questions to a favorite band: “How long’s the tour?/ What time you guys playing?/ Where you going next?/ What comes first/ The music/ Or the words?”  Sonic Youth’s next studio LP, The Eternal (’09), found them back on an indie label, Matador, continuing to pursue the energetic spirit of Rather Ripped yet coming nowhere close to the ebullience and vitality of their final Geffen album.

* College Music Journal, February 3, 2006.

Highlights: Incinerate, Reena, Jams Run Free, Pink Steam

Sublime bit: Yet another in Moore’s long line of exhilarating arpeggiated guitar solos, running from 3:05 to 3:30 of Incinerate.

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