There’s something of a paradox at the heart of Sonic Youth’s ‘The Eternal’. Whilst like most if not all recent SY albums, it undeniably feels familiar, I’m finding that jumping to conclusions about these albums often leads me in the wrong direction. And despite the fact that, overall, this is Sonic Youth at their most direct I’m finding that I need some time with these records to truly make up my mind as to whether or not they are any good.
My initial reaction to ‘The Eternal’ was that it was a more consistent record than 2007’s rather patchy ‘Rather Ripped’ but one that lacked any real highlights. Repeated listens though have suggested that ‘The Eternal’ is not just consistent but also consistently strong.
A good example of that is that the ration of Lee Ranaldo songs is not just the usual one, but instead two. Lee’s songs are always amongst my favourites and ‘What We Know’ and ‘Walkin Blue’ don’t buck that particular trend (BTW when did Lee turn into Dustin Hoffman?). And so what if Thurston Moore seems to be able to knock out songs like ‘Antenna’ in his sleep? Am I really going to say I’m bored with great SY material?
Sure, there are one or two songs such as ‘Leaky Lifeboat’ whose shelf life isn’t likely to extend much past this record but the strike rate is pleasingly high, possible approaching that of ‘Sonic Nurse’, my favourite 21st Century Youth record.
Undoubtedly SY face the same issues as artists of similar longevity – it’s well nigh impossible for them to make records that don’t sound like themselves. And if I have a gripe it’s the slight disappointment that they haven’t used Thurston’s brilliant and largely acoustic ‘Trees Outside the Academy’ as a starting point for broadening their textures. But it’s a minor point and we should be grateful that SY are still around and producing records as good as this one.
From their ‘Later’ appearance’, one of the LP’s highlights: