26 Years Ago: Sonic Youth Strip Down for ‘Goo’
After they signed their major-label record deal, Sonic Youth wasted no time pulling together the songs for their sixth album. ‘Daydream Nation,’ from 1988, made them college-rock stars, and reeling from the success, the decade-old band wanted to take things to the next level. So they jumped to a big record company, streamlined their art rock into more accessible alt-rock and banged out ‘Goo’ in less than a month.
And from the start, ‘Goo’ sounds different from other Sonic Youth records. It’s sharper, fuller and cleaner. The band worked with producers Nick Sansano (who was behind the boards for ‘Daydream Nation’) and Ron Saint Germain (best known for a pair of Bad Brains albums), but the real change was in the band itself. Taking their big-label leap seriously, they crafted a series of songs – most clocking in at radio-friendly lengths; only one track stretches past seven minutes – that wasn’t too challenging or confusing.
The opening ‘Dirty Boots’ hums along a restructured version of Sonic Youth’s usual intricate guitar interplay (along with a tight and focused vocal by Thurston Moore). ‘Disappearer’ plays along similar lines, once again featuring Moore. And Kim Gordon’s tough ‘Kool Thing,’ with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, became a hit single for the band, reaching the modern-rock Top 10 (something they’d do only one more time).
But more than anything, ‘Goo’ is melodic – not something you can exactly say about other Sonic Youth records. The 11 songs lock into their grooves almost immediately and rarely derail. Once the band settles into place, it doesn’t stray too far (though a few songs can’t help but to wander outside of their boundaries, roaming from side to side before strolling back to their starting points). The gamble paid off: ‘Goo’ became the group’s first charting album, reaching No. 96. Even though ‘Kool Thing’ was the album’s only charting single, other songs received some airplay on burgeoning modern-rock stations. And Sonic Youth were all ready for alternative nation, which was just a year away from rising.
Seriously, How Are These Bands Not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?