Sonic Youth

Dirty reissue

/geffen; 2003/




more info:

I don’t intend to review the original Dirty album but the b-sides and the unreleased demos which enhance Sonic Youth’s 9th album. Promo stickers usually exaggerate the qualities – when they do not lie - of the album they promote but here, there is nothing but plain truth to me: Dirty is definitely “Sonic Youth’s alternative rock milestone’. It’s the milestone of the band that has been the most influential ‘indie’ band for ages now. They have influenced a wide range of bands, from say, Trail of Dead (‘The destroyed room’ for instance) to say, Godspeed You Black Emperor (‘Providence’, ‘Death Valley 69’, ‘Theresa’s sound world’…).

Without the shadow of a doubt, this album is part of my 1990’s top 5 albums. It’s not only the ultimate indie rock / grunge album (along with In Utero) but it combines both Sonic Youth 1980’s sense of melody, noise-pop energy, their defying traditional song structures and the magnificence of intertwining guitar and bass melodies which characterizes their music since Washing Machine & A Thousand Leaves. There is everything in this album: powerful sharp sound, direct lyrics, urgency & rage (‘100%’), energy (‘Orange rolls angel’s spit’, ‘Purr’), sadness (‘JC’ in which Kim’s vocals are truly tremendous, ‘Wish Fulfillment’), divine intertwining guitar melodies (‘Theresas’s sound world’), catchy parts in tense grunge songs (‘Orange rolls, angel’s spit’ ‘Sugar Kane’), disillusion (‘Crčme brulée’) rawness (the Untouchables cover ‘Nic Fit’,), rriot girl spirit (‘Swimsuit issue’, ‘Drunken Butterfly’), noisy-pop charms (‘Shoot’, ‘On the Strip’) occasional noise, & anthemic political relevance which is rare for them (‘Chapel Hill’ and especially ‘Youth VS Fascism’ were set against the henceforth 1st Gulf War context). And everything is so wonderfully well-connected…

Dirty Deluxe Edition is definitely for die-hard fans. The packaging is good-looking even if Don Flanagan’s photo is still missing since it has been censored right after the first release in 1992. Every SY fan already has all the b-sides, which generates a moral problem about this reissue. Is it just a commercial trap made up by Geffen in order to get money from the underground masses ?? Have I been a fool to buy all the soundtracks and eps to gather all the b-sides ?? Am I a fool to write this review ??

The b-sides are very good songs which could have been part of Dirty but hey, they had too much good material…and they did not make the double-cd mistake. Thurston’s noise-pop ‘Stalker’ was on Dirty orange vinyl version. Lee’s endearing ‘Genetic’ was both on 100% ep and on My so-called life soundtrack. ‘The Destroyed Room’ & ‘Hendrix Necro’ are rriot girl songs leaded by Kim’s throaty raspy voice. In the first one, Kim makes fun of J Mascis’ housekeeping techniques and the other is based on the Goo-era instrumental track entitled ‘The Bedroom’ (and its starting riff is similar to Murray Street’s ‘Plastic Sun’).
Two covers come from Sugar Kane’s ep: ‘It is my body’ (Alice Cooper) & ‘Personality Crisis’ (NYDolls). They are different from the original versions and do not sound like usual SY songs. ‘The end of the end of the ugly’ (shoot’s subdued demo) and ‘Tamra’ are instrumental experimental tracks.

The other tracks are Dirty’s first demos. They consist of instrumental soundscapes in which you can recognize here and there riffs that would constitute the core of Dirty songs (only 3 tracks do not include bits of Dirty: ‘New white cross’, ‘Lite damage’ & ‘Dreamfinger’). In fact, these additional tracks will satisfy the ones who adore Sonic Youth’s recent experimental releases since they sound much more like a soothing session of the SYR series (or like the Demon Lover soundtrack) than a regular album (or regular b-sides). They were recorded in their Hoboken studio and it’s surprising how the final album sounds much more fierce than these demos which can described as restful, instrumental, stripped-down version of Dirty.

The real surprise is ‘Wish Fulfilment’s 4-track acoustic demo recorded by Lee Ranaldo on his own with this synth birds sound in the background. It’s very touching and quite similar to the album version, which is surprising because we can hear that the music comes from 2 instrumental demos (‘Guido’ & ‘Little jammy thing’).

So, is this reissue superfluous ?? Well, the ones who did not have the b-sides will be satisfied, the demos were really unreleased and do not sound like Dirty songs with a bad rehearsal 1-track sort of sound at all. The b-side entitled ‘Tamra’ (off Whores Moaning ep) is representative of their genre which will content fans of SY’s experimental side for sure. However, since the cd does not offer extra bonus such as Dirty’s video-clips – and that’s a shame – it’s far more worth purchasing the vinyl version of this reissue from Smells Like Records rather than the Geffen cd…


/may 15th 2003/