Sound — 8
Sonic Youth, having recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, might want to consider changing their name to Sonic Middle-Age. Indeed, they were considering "Sonic Life" as a title for this album (which in my opinion was a cooler title), but finally settled on "Rather Ripped." This album marks a few changes in the band's sound. Collaborator/3rd guitarist Jim O'Rourke is no longer an official member of the band; Kim Gordon returns to a prominent role; and The album is, for the most part, noise-free, and most feedback is in the background. Described by Thurston as a great song record, Rather Ripped showcases a more melodic and (dare I say) mainstream side of Sonic Youth than has previously been witnessed. All but two songs are under 5 minutes in length, and most follow the standard verse-chorus-verse-etc. structure. Lee's lead guitar figures prominently in a lot of songs, particularly Incinerate and Pink Steam. Playing rhythm, Thurston's guitar is fairly clean in tracks like The Neutral and Jams Run Free. Kim's bass-lines are very melodic and carry the rhythm. Steve Shelley's drumwork is great, very detailed and rhythmic. As a result of this newfound melody, the songs seem less angst-y and more laid back, and we see the band obviously having fun with a new style.
Lyrics — 9
Thurston and Kim share vocal duties, as always, and it's great to hear that their increasing age has not slowed them down. Thurston's voice is a little deeper, but is still recognizably Thurston's; Kim's voice has barely changed at all, maybe even prettier than normal. I find a lot of the lyrics a little more straightforward than normal. Sleepin Around is about just that, but in a more derogatory fashion: what you did was wrong/what you did good is gone/nothing you do is right/always end up in a fight. Lights Out is a bad-relationship song a la Unmade Bed: she scans the room/for a star to consume/when eye contact is made/I suggest son you fix yr grave/cause it's lights out for you. Or seems a bit kinky at first (in your mouth a wad of cashsilver quarters drop/to your pleated skirt/canisters of whipped cream/in your sweater pockets/a look of space and total life/ready/or/not.) but sounds more like a description of a show in a fan's tour-diary: the plan is to go to D.C. and hang out/go see girls rock/how long's the tour? /what time you guys playin?/where you goin next? To me, Do You Believe in Rapture? is the most compelling because of the Christian-sounding lyrics: burning eyes seek Jesus coming/Jesus comes to pave the way/do you believe in his sweet sensation? /do you believe in second chance?/do you believe in rapture, babe? and can I drink yr drunken mercy?/wine burns the devil's hole. Whether SY are Christians or not (if anyone knows please tell me), this song is certainly better than any Christian music I've heard, and I play guitar for my church.
Overall Impression — 8
01. Reena - a great opener, sung by Kim. Nothing fancy, just goes straight into the song. Great melody, great opening riff, and a fantastic rhythm breakdown carried by Steve's drumming. 02. Incinerate - another great song, more great riffs, and good singing by Thurston. Lee's leads are great, with Steve's drumming and Kim's bass keeping the rhythm. Has a nice little solo with some noisy distortion. 03. Do You Believe In Rapture? - an experimental, atmospheric song led by harmonics, a subdued drum machine and Steve's rolling cymbals. For the hardcore fans, there is feedback in the second verse-chorus, but alas, it is also subdued. A great moment of pop melody comes at about 1:50, and for awhile begins to sound like a conventional song, until it returns to the verse about ten-seconds later. One of the highlights of the album. 04. Sleepin Around - finally, here is the feedback! The song fades in from nowhere with some muffled guitar shriek, proceeding into an edgy, almost punkish song. Kim's bass features prominently, and SY fans are reintroduced to the distortion and harmonics that they've come to know and love. 05. What A Waste - another Kim track, well sung, but with some weird backing vocal effects in the chorus. The song features a lot of effects, with some windy-sounding guitar in the chorus and phaser, tremolo, and harmonizer in the bridge and outro. Great melody. 06. Jams Run Free - again, guitars are fairly clean and bass is prominent. The intro almost reminds me of 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins, they have a similar vibe. Kim's vocals are very breathy, and a bit raspy when she tries to hit the high notes, but still well-sung. There are some great almost-noisy moments at 2:10-2:45 and 3:05-3:20, very reminiscent of old SY. Great lead guitar by Lee. 07. Rats - Kim's bass carries the song while Lee plays subdued feedback and Thurston keeps rhythm. Very tense song, with great vocals by Thurston and a great noisy solo by Lee. Maybe it's just me, but I swear there's an acoustic guitar somewhere in the mix during the pre-chorus and chorus. 08. Turquoise Boy - a sweetly melodic song with some great lead guitar by Lee in the intro. Kim's vocals are great, and Steve works the cymbals a lot, creating a great atmosphere. Then the band turns on the distortion and we again catch a glimpse at the old SY we know and love as the song breaks down into dissonant tremolo strumming with Steve's bass drums being the only rhythm. Then we move back into the verse, following the form of most SY songs. 09. Lights Out - a fairly quiet song, mostly rhythm guitar, with the exception of a noisy, J-Mascis-esque solo. More prominent bass from Kim. Thurston's vocals are very low, giving the song a very dark vibe. Good song, but a little boring. 10. The Neutral - a pretty, melodic intro and verse. A lot of bass in the chorus and a bit more overdrive, with great use of a flanger effect. A great moment in the bridge when the intro when the intro riff and bridge riff overlap. 11. Pink Steam - opens with some soothing harmonics and keyboard (I believe), and then goes into a tense a guitar-driven song overflowing with riffs and leads. Essentially a 7-minute jam (Thurston doesn't start singing until 5 minutes in), it is the longest song on the album, and gets a bit repetitive at times, but the band's chemistry is great. 12. Or - a minimalistic, very bass-y song. Steve works the bass drums in a pounding rhythm while Lee plays some sparse acoustic lines while Thurston sings/speaks. Features some nice guitar chime after the first verse. A quiet, pensive closer. This is Sonic Youth as we've rarely seen them before, playing songs and melodies rather than jams and noise. Fans will receive this album in two ways: like me (a longtime fan), appreciating the new melodic dimension the band has flirted with on this album; or like my brother (a recently-converted fan), bemoaning the lack of noise that got most of us (myself included) into SY in the first place, and scoffing at the closing line what comes first?/the music/or/the words? I see this album as bringing new fans to Sonic Youth, fans who otherwise would not have been quite impressed with their noisy, chaotic tendencies needing to take them in small doses before eventually warming up to the brilliance of albums such as Daydream Nation, Sister, or Washing Machine. Rather Ripped is no classic, but is still a great addition to any SY fan's collection. If it were lost/stolen I would probably buy it again, or buy another SY album that I haven't heard yet.