There isn’t anything Musicwhore.org can tell you that you haven’t already heard from Rolling Stone or Mojo or Q or Spin.
All the pre-release hype was pretty much true — Murray Street is the most pop-sounding Sonic Youth album since Daydream Nation/Goo/Dirty.
Of course, I’m in no position to really say how accurate that is. I buy Sonic Youth albums on a case-by-case basis, and the only ones in my collection are, not surprisingly, Daydream Nation and Goo. (I also have Goodbye 20th Century, only because the idea of a rock band interpreting modern classical works merges two interests near and dear to me.)
That bias disclosed, the only issue for me is whether Murray Street would fit alongside said SY albums on my CD shelf — and it does.
Oddly enough, Murray Street is probably one of Sonic Youth’s least dressed up albums.
The aural pyrotechnics with which the band has long been associated seem to have been bypassed for a more unadultered sound.
That’s just a long way of saying the band doesn’t use very many pedals.
Sure, when the music reaches a point where the momentum builds — like during the chorus of “The Empty Page” or the middle section of “Karen Revisited” — distortion comes out in full force, but for the most part, they’re not the business of the day.
An intriguing development, really — the addition of Jim O’Rourke as a full-time member should have meant the triple guitar threat of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Steve Shelley would yield more effects.
Instead, Murray Street comes across as somewhat genteel, the interplay between guitarists more textured. Genteel — when was that adjective ever used to describe Sonic Youth?
The seven-track album, however, clocks in at an epic 45 minutes, which means there’s a lot of noodling going on in Murray Street’s long-winded tracks. The minimalist dissonances more akin to the quartet’s dalliances with the avant garde still have sway over the band, and hence, the album.
“Karen Revisited”, the album’s longest track at 11 minutes, cycles through all kinds of textures previously explored by the Youth. But those first few minutes before the song transforms into a timbral exercise have some decent enough melodies.
If you don’t make it past the album’s first three tracks, you might be fooled into thinking Murray Street is entirely Thurston Moore’s vocal show. The usually prevalent Kim Gordon doesn’t contribute her familiar warble till the album’s end, while Steve Shelley anchors its middle tracks.
So yes, there’s nothing this review can contribute that hasn’t already been stated. Murray Street combines Sonic Youth’s latter-day harmonic sophsitication with its more melodic yearnings.
It’s smart enough for a patrician but made for a plebian.