90s score: 8/10
2020 score: 10/10
Last week marked the 30th anniversary of Goo, the sixth studio album and major label debut by Sonic Youth. For the longest time, I had boxed in Sonic Youth with the rest of the grunge era, which I had little interest in. My only exposure to Sonic Youth was when they stole Peter Frampton’s watermelon in the Simpsons. I also remember reading “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?” on a bathroom wall and not understanding the context. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started seeing a girl who had Goo in her heavy rotation, that I developed an appreciation for Sonic Youth. That admiration was furthered when I read the chapter on Sonic Youth in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. They certainly transcend the grunge era, as well as the short-lived hardcore punk era of the early 80s in which they were birthed.
Although many people say that Sonic Youth go for a more conventional rock sound in this album, I beg to differ. Sure, Goo might be the most accessible of their discography, but your average rock listener might get turned off by the sheer amount of feedback, screeching guitars, raw noise, and artsy experimentation. They would like “Disappearer” and the mellow parts of “Dirty Boots,” but they would be confused just listening to the howling of a broken amp in the minute-long “Scooter and Jinx.” No, this album is for those who have willingly explored the very fringes of rock n’ roll. There are still remnants of Sonic Youth’s early punk sound from Confusion Is Sex, blended with garage rock, especially in “Mary-Christ.” Lee Ranaldo’s melancholic melodic in “Mote” gives off a gothic vibe. And there’s even elements of grind and noisecore in the discordance of “Mildred Pierce.”
Now I would like to take a moment to focus on how amazing Kim Gordon is. She really stands out in this album. Her singing style is both passionate and nonchalant in “Tunic (Song For Karen),” playful yet menacing in “My Friend Goo” and “Cinderella’s Big Score,” and in “Kool Thing,” she just sounds so, well, cool! Chuck D yelling slogans in that song is a bit odd, but looking at the lyrics, I suppose it makes sense. Gordon’s bass tone also sounds great, particularly in the intros where it’s just her and Steve Shelley’s thunderous drums. As for the guitars, each track is different, thanks to Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo alternating through their arsenal of cheap guitars, each with an unconventional tuning, creating a sound that few can recreate.
Sonic Youth had to battle with the label at almost every step of the process, recorded multiple overdub sessions, and fired and hired audio engineers to achieve the sound they wanted. In the end, they weren’t entirely embraced by the mainstream, but the album thrived on college radio charts, where their real fanbase could organically grow. Every artistic decision, down to the iconic cover art by Raymond Pettibon (who did a lot of Black Flag’s art), was worth it to push out this masterpiece.
Written by Chris Aitkens
*Edited by Dominic Abate