Within the first five seconds of Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth fans who’ve felt completely ripped off by their last few releases are likely to breathe a sigh of relief. In the album opener, ‘Reena,’ there’s a beat, there’s a solid melodic riff, and there’s Kim Gordon singing — not whispering or screaming, but performing an actual structured song. It’s followed by ‘Incinerate’, a slowly drawled Thurston Moore number that sits amid wonderfully sunny guitar melodies. And that’s when it kicks in— more so than on any work they’ve released in the last ten years, Sonic Youth have once again come off as a completely solid and relevant band. Instead of a noisy estimate of the defining moments in some lost Branca symphony, Rather Ripped harkens back to the divinely melodic guitar rock era of Experimental Jet Set, Washing Machine, and even Dirty. For a band known as much for their noisy musical advances as they are for their longevity, a smart, late-career take on pop music could most certainly play out as a total disaster. Instead it’s a high-minded success that finds its greatest moments in songs like the subtly political should-be-a-single ‘Do You Believe In Rapture?’, the spacey Lee Ranaldo tweak-out of ‘Rats’, and the droning exit music of ‘Or’.
Fifteen years ago a second wave of fans were getting introduced to Sonic Youth through their first bits of mass-exposure and a number of records on which they reigned in their at times unwieldy experimental sounds and helped redefine the way folks looked at mainstream rock. Many of those who discovered that music traced it back, discovering its roots in pure sonic experimentation and a world of outsider sounds. Sonic Youth still stand at that gateway, and if they can put out a record like this every few years, the rest of the world may someday learn the true value of all the noise that spawned them — and more importantly, all the noise they spawned.