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The Haul 2010: Sonic Youth's Goo Box

Programming note: I've been stuck on a few albums that, quite frankly, I don't have much to say about, so for the foreseeable future, I'll be going out of purchased order. It is safe to say I am the only one who cares about breaking my internal rules. It is also safe to say that updates will be coming much, much faster now.

17. Sonic Youth – Goo 4LP – Goofin', 2005 [1990] – $28 (Newbury St. Newbury Comics, 2/2)

Sonic Youth's Goo

If you haven’t seen my write-up on Goo as part of my Sonic Youth Discographied feature, I direct you there first. This post will focus on everything else you get in this four LP box set: twenty additional tracks, full-color sleeves, over-enthusiastic liner notes, late-onset street cred.

First, the unreleased tracks. “Lee #2,” shockingly enough, is a Lee Ranaldo song, specifically a lackadaisical one with a melodic chorus and half-baked verses. It’s more reminiscent of his songs from Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves than “Mote.” “That’s All I Know (Right Now)” is a cover of the Neon Boys, a pre-Television band featuring Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine playing proto-punk. Sounds like proto-punk! “The Bedroom” is an energetic, if somewhat sloppy live instrumental. Thurston makes a joke about what you do when your mom’s a skinhead at the beginning. I won’t ruin the punchline. “Dr. Benway’s House” is a go-nowhere instrumental. Finally, “Tuff Boys” is some vintage Sonic Youth messin’ around. Imagine if they got tired of feedback like Dave Knudson of Minus the Bear got tired of finger-tapping all the time. The first two songs are worth hearing, the next three could have been left in the vaults.

Next, the demos. Sonic Youth had never done proper demos before Goo, which doesn’t surprise me a whole lot; they seemed far more likely to tinker with songs in practice or live than in the studio. (This presumably changed when they built their own studio.) The liner notes mention how Goo’s demos had floated around before the final production was completed, so some fans prefer the rough cuts to the polished versions. I understand that preference—if I had a time machine, I’d go to 1996 and get Hum to record “Comin’ Home” when they first wrote it and it had jagged edges—but these demos make me appreciate the major-label polish and editing of the real deal. The guitars sound muddy, the bass is too prominent, the drums lack clarity—they’re demos, alright. Plus, as you can tell from runtimes like 6:37 for “Dirty Boots” and 7:49 for “Corky (Cinderella’s Big Score),” they’re Sonic Youth demos, with extra messin’ around. Little thing amuse me: how much better the bridge is on the final version of “Tunic,” how Thurston messes up the vocal melody for “Dirty Boots,” how Kim Gordon’s more restrained delivery on the demo of “My Friend Goo” is almost palatable. Bigger changes are less interesting, like the nearly nine minutes of “Blowjob (Mildred Pierce),” which tacks on six minutes of aimless riffing to the already tiresome proper version, or the addition of an instrumental version of “Lee #2.” It’s a different way to hear Goo, but I hesitate to call much of it better.

After those bonus tracks and demos, what more could you want? More bonus tracks? Sure! The cover of the Beach Boys’ “I Know There’s an Answer” from Pet Sounds recalls Frank Black’s cover of “Hang onto Your Ego” from Frank Black, since it’s the alternate take of “I Know There’s an Answer.” The verses and melodies are the same, the chorus changes, and Sonic Youth opts for wobbly feedback over Frank Black’s new wave sheen. Naturally, the liner notes explain how “We wanted to do the original lyrics to it… We wanted to do it as ‘Hang onto Your Ego.’ But someone discouraged us from doing that.” Conspiracy theories, go! “Can Song” is an alternate take of “The Bedroom.” “Isaac” is another forgettable instrumental. Finally, there’s a “Goo Interview Flexi,” in which Thurston Moore does his best to sound like a beat poet / late night DJ in describing the inspirations for his songs, Kim Gordon sounds both cutesy and spacey. Did I learn much from that interview? Of course not.

The liner notes are quite thorough: a 12x12” full-color booklet with a lengthy contextual essay from critic/friend Byron Coley and a short perspective from Geffen A&R guy Mark Kates, who helped bring the band onboard. The former has considerably more credibility as a former writer for Forced Exposure and a friend of the band, but I prefer the latter’s more to-the-point recap of the era, since Coley gushes feverishly when describing the songs. On “Tunic”: “[Kim and J. Mascis’s] harmonies have a feel not unlike that of Corinthean leather.” On “Dr. Benway’s House”: “It sounds like hot Nova wind blowing across the Moroccan desert, pushing around a whole lot of jeeps and camels.” (Counterpoint from Lee: “It’s basically a 16-track tape loop.”) On “Can Song”: “Whatever you call it, those guitars build a big damn half-pipe stretching way up into the sky.” Maybe Coley’s always this enthusiastic, but it’s strange when the band members are, for the most part, far better at viewing the album in hindsight.

As for the late-onset street cred, this box set of Goo will take up nearly an inch of real estate on your vinyl shelf. Couple it with the similar box sets for Daydream Nation and Dirty and Sonic Youth has dramatically increased the value of the neighborhood. There’s a distinct possibility that these records will make recommendations to their neighbors, like “It would be pretty cool if you turned into a long out-of-print proto-punk single” or consolations like “Don’t worry, you’re bound to have a Carpenters-esque hipster revival one of these days.” Plus you get a whole lot of material for just a few bucks more than the single-LP reissues of their earlier records would cost you.