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Sonic Youth - Dirty

On July 21, 1992 "Sonic Youth" released their seventh studio album and second double album - "Dirty".


"Dirty" marks a pivotal moment in "Sonic Youth's" discography, representing a distinct shift in their sound and overall approach to music-making. This album continued the change in the music style of the band that started with their previous album "Goo". The sound on "Dirty" was inspired by the popularity of grunge music at the time. It was a gritty, unapologetic exploration of the band's noise-rock roots, coupled with a newfound accessibility that allowed them to reach a broader audience without compromising their artistic integrity.


Following the release of "Goo", which achieved moderate commercial success, "Sonic Youth" toured Europe and North America twice in 1990, and again in late summer 1991 with "Nirvana" and "Dinosaur Jr.". Maybe this was the reason producer Butch Vig and mixer Andy Wallace, who both had worked in the same roles on "Nirvana's" "Nevermind" album was picked to work with the band on "Dirty".


The album opens with "100%", an anthemic track that sets the tone for what's to come. The catchy guitar riffs and Thurston Moore's unique vocals immediately draw listeners into the album's sonic landscape. The song was written about the murder of Joe Cole, a roadie and the band's friend. But, as the record progresses, we encounter an array of emotions and "sonic" textures, each song a unique piece of the puzzle that is "Dirty."


Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's distinct guitar work shines throughout the album, blending discordant noise with infectious melodies. Tracks like "Sugar Kane" (said to be about Marilyn Monroe) and "Drunken Butterfly" (the last single from the album) exemplifies this perfectly, balancing dissonance with hooks that linger long after the music stops.


While "Dirty" embraces its noisier and raw elements, the album doesn't shy away from exploring more introspective and sensitive themes. "Wish Fulfillment" (sung by guitarist Lee Ranaldo) and "JC" (also written about the murder of Joe Cole and bears his initials), offer glimpses of vulnerability amidst the wall of sound, revealing a deeper layer to the band's songwriting and lyrical prowess.


Kim Gordon's contributions on "Dirty" adds to the album's diversity. Her unique vocal delivery and the fierce energy she brings to tracks like "Swimsuit Issue" (written about a then-current Geffen employee who was remanded to therapy for sexual harassment), are well balanced with her drowsy singing in tracks like "Shoot".


"Youth Against Fascism" features Ian MacKaye of "Fugazi" as guest guitar, while The songwriting on "Purr" showcases a more experimental side of "Sonic Youth", pushing boundaries and defying conventional song structures. "Nic Fit" is an "Untouchables" cover sang by Moore.


One of the album's highlights is "Chapel Hill", an evocative and dreamy track that in the beginning slows down the pace and showcases the band's ability to create atmospheric soundscapes, but nearing the end adds pace and power. Its contemplative nature acts as a balance amidst the album's more aggressive moments. The song was one of the first written for the album and is about the town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the murder of bookseller Bob Sheldon in 1991.


"Sonic Youth's" penchant for experimentation and their willingness to challenge themselves and their listeners is evident in "Dirty." Tracks like "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit" and "Theresa's Sound-World" take us on a sonic journey, combining noise, distortion, and unconventional rhythms to create a sense of controlled chaos.


During the recording of the final track of the album, "Crème Brûlée", Kim Gordon spontaneously played guitar and sang, accompanied by Shelley on drums. Meanwhile, Thurston Moore attempted to turn on his amplifier, and guitarist Lee Ranaldo captured the entire impromptu session.


The band had initially recorded 18 tracks for the album, but it had to be trimmed down to fit a CD. The 3 songs omitted from the final press later reappeared in on other releases. "Genetic" and "Hendrix Necro" were featured on the "100%" single, while "Stalker", was added to the album's vinyl version.


Overall, "Dirty" is a testament to "Sonic Youth's" artistic evolution and their ability to embrace both their noise-rock roots and a more accessible sound. It remains a definitive album in the alternative and noise rock genres and continues to inspire musicians and fans alike.


For listening: Spotify, Apple Music


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