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  SONIC YOUTH
'Hits Are For Squares' plus '1991: The Year Punk Broke' DVD
(Universal Music)

Phil Kane

phil kane

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'Hits Are For Squares' was originally released in 2008 on the Starbucks label. It is a compilation of sixteen tracks, the first fifteen being chosen by celebrities commissioned by Sonic Youth for the project. These tracks vary widely from the spiky Americana of 'Stones' through the punky buzz of 'Mary-Christ' to the avant-garde industrial clang of 'Tuff Gnarl'. The last track, 'Slow Revolution' was specially written for the album by the band. The best track on the album is the comparatively smooth and lush interpretation of 'Superstar'; ironically a cover of the Carpenters song (itself being a cover of a Delaney and Bonnie original).

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Despite the album having a deep vein of experimental industrial punk Metal running through it, the music generally remains undemanding. Although the tracks have been chosen by a disparate bunch of people, there is a groove to the album that perfectly illustrates how Sonic Youth's joyous brand of eclectic rock has become established Americana rather than the shoe gazing racket that passes for indie these days.

Over all, apart from the specially recorded drone of 'Slow Revolution', 'Hits Are For Squares' holds nothing new for the hardcore Sonic fan but as a painless and unchallenging introduction to the richly eclectic back catalogue of this iconic American band, it is pretty damn good.

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Available on DVD for the first time, '1991: The Year Punk Broke' is billed as a pivotal film centred on life on the road during Sonic Youth's 1991 European tour. This may well prove more interesting to Nirvana fans because it shows the band performing some of the Nevermind album a few months before its release and their sudden meteoric ascension to the heady heights of superstardom.

The live tracks are separated by short monologues or vaguely choreographed skits filmed on a camcorder as they do the sights between gigs that offer none of the insights the blurb promises. It all just seems to be an excuse to be 'whacky' and far too clever for their own shirts whilst uttering mundane profundities in front of a camera.

Even the title of the DVD is ambiguous; does '1991: The Year Punk Broke' refer to punk becoming main stream or becoming FUBB? Like I said before, far too clever for their own good.

Sonic Youth's performances alternate with those of The Ramones, Nirvana, Babes In Toyland, Dinosaur Jr. and Gumball, all filmed as they ranged across Europe from one festival to another. The overall sound quality, despite being fully restored, re-synced and re-mastered in uncompressed PCM stereo is at best good bootleg quality but the performances themselves are fascinating and Sonic Youth's patronage and influence on bands that will soon pass them by is quite touching.

The edgy fly-on-the-wall camera work, skilful editing and production style betrays the DVD's yearning to have been at Woodstock, giving it a washed out, grainy sixties feel. There is over an hours worth of bonus material that includes the previously unreleased featurette '(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale' plus extra live Sonic footage and a rare performance of 'In Bloom' by Nirvana.

Maybe there is some sort of joke or message that this reviewer has missed but there is a scene on the DVD where Sonic's Thurston Moore takes the piss out of two little German girls as he interviews them. They cannot understand a word he is saying and I think that pretty much sums up this DVD in particular and Sonic Youth in general.

With this package Sonic Youth seem to not only go out of their way to take pot shots at those who have bought, or will buy this album (with its unflattering title), they also seem to contradict themselves. The band involving celebrity, the album being released on Universal Music and the original collaboration with Starbucks all seem to jar with their apparent anti corporate stand.

Fortunately for the band, the joke is so obscure that like the two little girls, no one will have the slightest idea what the band are babbling on about and so will nod their ersatz comprehension, smile and buy the album and/or DVD to use as coffee table bling anyway.

Job done then!

05.12.11


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