Sound — 7
It was 1992. Oh the flannel! Oh the greasy hair! Oh the memories! And the Sonics were there at the start of it all: first with Dinosaur Jr, then Mudhoney, and finally that infamous Seattle trio. Touring with these heavy guitar bands had a significant impact on the recording process, and it is not surprising that Dirty sounds far heavier than anything Sonic Youth have done. Unfortunately this seems to encumber the record more than anything. Sure, Sonic Youth have always been noisy, but thick and heavy like Smashing Pumpkins? I'm not so sure. There are two genuine problems with this record. Firstly, most of the songs fit into two categories: upbeat Thurston Moore indie rockers and angry Kim Gordon Riot Grrrl rants. The album does a good job of alternating between the two styles making it less monotonous to sit though than one might think, if somewhat predictable. This limited categorization also serves to highlight the similarities between otherwise good songs, making the record seem uninspired rather than cohesive. The other real problem with Dirty is the sound. The strength of Goo was in the crystalline production values: finally the home listener was actually able to hear all of the crazy guitar noises that are such an integral part of this band. Dirty, on the other hand, sounds thick, muddy and chunky. Whilst this sort of works for heavier songs like Drunken Butterfly and Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit, prettier songs like there'sa's Sound World and On the Strip just end up sounding ham-fisted. That and all the noise sections mostly just sound crap because Butch Vig makes them all sound chunky and thick.
Lyrics — 6
Some of the songwriting on Dirty also just isn't up to par. Youth Against Fascism is boring, Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit is annoying, and despite being initially mesmorising, there'sa's Sound World is far too long. Purr is also something of a throw-away song, the only saving grace being the cool slow noise part. There is also the problem of too many songs sounding too similar that I touched on before. Sugar Kane and Chapel Hill are great songs, but they could almost be the same song. However, despite my bitching, there are some fantastic songs here. Lee Ranaldo offers an absolute gem of a power-pop song in Wish Fulfillment, Drunken Butterfly and Swimsuit Issue are great super-angry Kim songs, and the pretty lead guitar part in the chorus of Sugar Kane is perfect. On the Strip is also absolutely gorgeous. The standout track is semi-eulogy track JC, a homage to then-recently murdered Black Flag and Rollins roadie Joe Cole. A classic post-punk song, JC is an great example of Sonic Youth's strength: turning feedback, guitar noise, and distortion into something of sad and quieting beauty. Kim Gordon's vocal even sounds motherly. It makes 100% (a song focusing on the same subject) sound rather insincere by comparison. Though that could just be because Thurston cockily shouts the lyrics.
Overall Impression — 7
Though I would hasten to call Dirty essential listening or even essential Sonic Youth, there are some great songs on here. The biggest setback for this record is the thick murky, production. Though Butch Vig did wonders for Billy Corgan, his style makes Sonic Youth sound far less penetrating overall. It does work, though, for the heavier tracks on the record though. This one probably isn't for Nickelback fans though.