Retro Reviews – Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star / Washing Machine

When music writer Gina Arnold proclaimed that 90s version of Sonic Youth represents shadow of its former self, many shook their heads in disbelief. Could it be that anyone’s favorite (aging) rockers actually started running out of steam by the mid 90s? Well, judging by 1994 “Jet Set” and  1995 “Washing Machine”, the answer is yes and no – while both albums contained some interesting material, they also sounded like SY were searching for a direction – not a very good omen for a band that was around for such a long time.

“Jet Set” is a collection of 14 songs which can be roughly divided into two halves –  more energetic material (hit single “Bull In The Heather”, “Self-Obsessed And Sexee”, “Bone”, “In The Mind Of A Bourgeois Reader”, “Waist”) and more arty/experimental material (the album opener”Winner’s Blues”, “Screaming Skull”, “Tokyo Eye” and the closer “Sweet Shine”, which features plenty of noise).

The album seems to be equally divided between noise/experimentation and melody, yet it appears that a lot of more experimental stuff could’ve easily been cut out without “Jet Set” loosing its appeal (witness a phone conversation on “Quest For The Cup” or bonus noise on “Sweet Shine”, which, while technically impressive, doesn’t add much to the album). The alternative/rocking part of the equation sounds a bit better, yet around the same time the band was slowly starting to lose its indie rock gurus status and the struggle to maintain it is evident throughout tracks like “Bone”.

“Washing Machine” (1995) can be seen as a slimmer cousin of “Jet Set”, where much of the fat was cut out and the amount of songs dropped down from 14 to 11. The album also toned down experimentation and noise a little bit and in general, lyrics/mood-wise, the album sounds a bit more personal/introspective than its predecessor.

The unfortunate part, however, is that very few songs on the album are memorable and some are downright awful (“Panty Lies”).  The only two tracks that stand out are “Junkie’s Promise” and (seemingly) endless closer “Diamond Sea”, where Thurston Moore actually manages to rhyme “see” with “sea” and get away with it. (the song was later covered by Yeah Yeah Yeahs).

In the end, both albums feature enough material for an EP and it seems that the band made a mistake when they created two separate albums, as a bit of better editing could’ve resulted in a better (single) mini-album, as opposed to two  flawed full-lengths.

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