Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Sonic YouthExperimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star DGC DGCD-24632 (1994)

U.S. President Bill Clinton adopted a strategy called “triangulation” for his 1996 re-election campaign.  It was a “third way” approach that, so it was claimed, merged elements of both sides of the Republican/Democrat mainstream political spectrum (an absurdly narrow spectrum, as it was) to synthesize them into a “triangulated” middle ground that was not beholden to either — when from the outside it looked like complete capitulation to the political right for narrow personal gain.  In a way, this is a useful lens with which to look at Sonic Youth’s 1994 album Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.  The album too often seems calculated to leaven the band’s late-1980s noise rock sound with a steady backbeat and various rock styles of the day, if for no other reason that to ride the wave of popularity those other sounds enjoyed at the time.  The band caters to all the trends in contemporary “alternative rock,” from “Winner’s Blues” a lo-fi indie blues in the mold of Sebadoh, to plenty of sleek grunge rock like Smashing Pumpkins, to cracked rock balladry like Hole.  There are hints of the sort of mellow, moody noisy grooves the band would explore at length later in the decade.  But those are completely subordinated to everything else.  Some of the songs take a good idea and run it into the ground through repetition, stretching a small (yet inadequate) amount of good ideas to album length.  Overall, the real problem is that the album is terribly uneven, and most of the second half is complete garbage.  While sometimes considered Sonic Youth’s very worst album, this isn’t as entirely bad as that suggests, but it is an awkward jumble of pandering and timid experiments in new directions.  That was the thing with Sonic Youth, though.  They adopted different styles over their long career.  It just took them time to develop each one, and there were lulls during the transitions.  Consider this such a lull.