"Rather Ripped" (Geffen) **
consensus would have you believe that the 15th album by New York's
long-running alternative/avant-noise grandfolks is the most tuneful
disc they've released in ages, a new peak after the trio of
not-half-bad predecessors crafted with former Chicagoan Jim
O'Rourke, who has since departed. "Sonic Youth are the best band in
the universe, and if you can't get behind that, that's your
problem," Village Voice rock-crit grandpappy Robert Christgau
gushed. Yet while I could rummage through their vast discography and
burn a compilation that would almost make that seem true, the group
hasn't made consistent albums in 15 years. (For the record, my faves
are 1990's "Goo," '88's "Daydream Nation," '86's "Sister" and "Evol"
and '85's "Bad Moon Rising.")
here are hardly sonic surprises, but yes, the jaunty "Reena,"
galloping "Incinerate," sorta-sexy "Turquoise Boy" and "Daydream
Nation"-retro "Jams Run Free" do have a pleasant tunefulness that
nicely augments those famous guitar shenanigans. But the overall
mellow vibe -- the fault of the lazy tempos -- is as snoozy but
pretentious as a flat-out clinker such as '95's "Washing Machine,"
and the low points are annoyingly low indeed, including the Lee
Ranaldo "Willard" toss-off "Rats," the waste-of-space non-song "Or"
and the dragging music and Christian-baiting lyrics of "Do You
Believe in Rapture?"
Seems to me the
best band in the universe shouldn't put you to sleep, leave you with
the sense that you've heard everything in its latest grooves before
(and done better) or give you four satisfying tunes out of a dozen
this long into a much-vaunted career.