Dirty [Deluxe Edition]

by: Sonic Youth

While Sonic Youth diehards may complain that 1992's Dirty is the first of their albums to receive the deluxe reissue treatment -- complete with an extra disc of B-sides, unreleased rehearsals and demos, and, of course, liner notes with essays by Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Byron Coley, among others -- its place in the band's discography as their (relatively) most commercial, and commercially successful, album makes it a financially savvy starting point and whets the appetite for the eventual Daydream Nation, Sister, Goo, and other reissues that the Dirty deluxe edition will hopefully spawn. The album itself remains one of Sonic Youth's best balances of experimentalism and accessibility, with just enough nods to the grunge/alternative explosion to connect it with that era, but not so many that it sounds dated. "100%," "Drunken Butterfly," and "Youth Against Fascism" -- with their crunching, crushing guitars; upfront drums; and relatively tight song structures -- are as close as the band gets to grunge, but it's grunge that's been filtered through Sonic Youth's arty, detached stance: they never sound as desperately, poetically angry as Nirvana or as rowdy and smart-assed as Mudhoney did. That's not to say that the band doesn't sound passionate on Dirty, however. Actually, the emphasis on pop structures and melodies provides the perfect setting for some of Sonic Youth's most explicitly political statements -- by appearing on an album that was originally released in the twilight of one Bush administration and reissued during another, the aforementioned "Youth Against Fascism" sounds both retro and eerily prescient. The more mainstream approach also allows the band to explore love and lust in surprisingly straightforward ways, such as the sexy "Purr" and "Sugar Kane" as well as Lee Ranaldo's beautiful, dysfunctional love song "Wish Fulfillment." Likewise, Dirty also features some of Kim Gordon's best moments, ranging from feminist manifestos like "Swimsuit Issue," "Shoot," and "On the Strip" to the breathy allure of "Crème Brulee." As strong as the material that made it on Dirty is, there are a couple of moments among the extra songs that rival the album's quality. Most of these come from the B-sides, which have a looser, slightly more open feel than Dirty itself. Ranaldo's "Genetic" is easily the poppiest song from the sessions and arguably one of the most heartfelt songs the band has ever recorded, and sounds more akin to Dinosaur Jr.'s distortion-drenched vulnerability than the emotional distance usually associated with Sonic Youth. Gordon's prominence in the sessions continues with the garagey "Is It My Body" and the deadpan cover of "Personality Crisis"; while neither is quite on par with her star turns on the album proper, they're notable for the lively, off-the-cuff feel that radiates from Gordon and the rest of the band. The practice sessions offer another kind of intimacy, giving a fly-on-the-wall perspective on Dirty's creation, for better or worse; individually, previously unreleased instrumental jams like "Lite Damage" and "Dreamfinger" reveal the band beginning to really jell creatively, but -- by their very nature -- are undeveloped and start to sound a little tedious back-to-back, though it's tempting to think of what they might have become were they more fully fleshed-out. The demos of the songs that made it on to Dirty, however, are fun for fans to pore over, offering treats like "Barracuda," an unleashed instrumental version of "Drunken Butterfly" that probably owes its working title to the striking resemblance the song's main riff owes to Heart's song of the same name. The multiple versions of "Wish Fulfillment" are almost a mini-course in how to put a song together, ranging from the riff-and-drum-machine demo "Little Jammy Thing" to a song-sketch of Ranaldo's vocals and guitar to "Guido," a full-band rehearsal instrumental that finds the group tinkering around with a near-final arrangement. And while Sonic Youth didn't put any live material from the Dirty era on the reissue, loose, raw performances such as "Moonface" (aka, "JC" on the album), "Theoretical Chaos" ("Swimsuit Edition"), and "Youth Against Fascism" have a spontaneity that's the next best thing to hearing them in concert. One minor flaw in the deluxe edition is how the bonus material is divided between the discs; due to the time constraints of CDs, it was probably inevitable that some of the B-sides had to go on the first disc with Dirty itself, but it would have been ideal to have the album stand on its own and keep the extra songs on disc two. Nitpicking aside, the deluxe edition of Dirty is a great reissue; while its bonus material isn't quite as extensive or revelatory as that of the stellar Pavement Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe, it's clearly lovingly crafted and very much worthwhile for Sonic Youth's fans, who should still be enjoying it by the time those Daydream Nation and Goo reissues finally arrive. ~ Heather Phares

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