It would scarcely seem possible for a six-minute Sonic Youth song titled “Anti-Orgasm” to prove predictable, given the variety of ways the New York noise-rockers have reinvented their sound over the past three decades. Yet the second song on latest SY LP The Eternal feels sadly unsurprising; far from feeble by normal criteria, the song flatlines by Sonic Youth standards, bouncing some Thurston Moore/Kim Gordon vocals off one another, scratching up a coupla guitar necks and settling into a sleepy groove. And honestly, it’s one of the better tracks on the disc.
It sucks to say, but this band seems to have become kinda, shudder, boring all of a sudden. Sonic Youth’s first actual indie release in 21 years—it’s out on Matador following a break with longtime label Geffen—finds the 50-somethings clinging too tightly to the precepts of their recent releases, but with markedly weaker results. So straightforward rock numbers “Sacred Trickster,” “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)” and “Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn” feel like lamer leftovers from 2006’s Rather Ripped, while meanderers “Antenna” and “Malibu Gas Station” lack the gripping tension/release of jammy early 2000s cuts like “Rain on Tin” and “Stones.”
Thankfully, The Eternal at least finds the ultra-consistent Lee Ranaldo in prime form; his two lead-vocal turns, the satisfyingly screeching “What We Know” and effectively trippy “Walkin Blue,” offer evidence that there’s life left in Sonic Youth yet. But then, there’s 10-minute go-nowhere closer “Massage the History,” snapping listeners back to reality, and the creeping fear that age might finally be gaining on the Youth.