Spin Control

June 18, 2006



Sonic Youth, "Rather Ripped" (Geffen) **

Critical 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.")

The highlights 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.