19 Years Ago: Sonic Youth’s ‘Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star’ Album Released
After all the buzz surrounding Sonic Youth when they released their landmark album ‘Daydream Nation’ in 1988, it was no surprise that they were soon scooped up by a major label. They made two pretty good but not quite spectacular albums for DGC (the same Geffen Records subsidiary that signed Sonic Youth pals Nirvana around the same time): 1990’s ‘Goo’ and 1992’s ‘Dirty.’ They even scored a pair of Top 10 modern-rock hits – sorta shocking, considering the band’s rep for artsy, unstructured noise tamed by, of all things, distorted feedback.
But those hits, and the relative success of ‘Goo’ and ‘Dirty,’ came at the price of old fans calling them sellouts. And maybe people who like their songs swallowed by untethered bursts of random abrasive clatter would see it that way: The music on ‘Goo’ and ‘Dirty’ was tighter, more focused and to the point. So when Sonic Youth returned to the studio in late 1993 to work on their eighth album, they figured it was time to win back some of those old fans.
‘Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star,’ which celebrates its 19th anniversary today, comes off like a compromise. Among the occasional radio-friendly tracks — like the barely three-minute ‘Bull in the Heather,’ which made it to No. 13 on the modern-rock chart, and the opening ‘Winner’s Blues,’ a folk-tied acoustic song — Sonic Youth scatter fractured noise collages and challenging chunks of no wave nostalgia. They even cap the album with the long, draining ‘Sweet Shine,’ a foggy throwback to ‘Daydream Nation’-style exploration.
The album was the band’s first to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 34. They wouldn’t get this high again until 2009’s ‘The Eternal.’ But ‘Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star’ isn’t very good. In fact, it may be, besides the dismal ‘A Thousand Leaves’ from 1998, Sonic Youth’s worst album since they became college-radio big shots in the mid ‘80s. But it serves a purpose. They played the corporate game for two records; this one was for them. And for better or worse, it sounds like it.
Listen to ‘Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star’