Dig and Discover: Sonic Youth - Dirty
ARTIST: SONIC YOUTH
LABEL (YEAR): DGC RECORDS (1992)
FOR FANS OF: PIXIES, DINOSAUR JR, HUSKER DU
Words by Alice Ding
Sometimes you buy a record because you're 14 years old and there’s a funny looking, albeit slightly frightening, knitted animal on the front cover. You have never heard of the band Sonic Youth before but it becomes a distinct turning point in your musical education. You still wear the faded black Goo album t-shirt ten years later, have read Kim Gordon’s autobiography and seen Thurston Moore play with his new band (but can’t help feeling like you’re betraying Camp Gordon after reading about Moore’s shortfalls in her book).
Sonic Youth was one of the most prolific bands to come out of the grunge era and played shows for decades after their contemporaries threw in the towel, so to speak. Dirty was released in 1992, a full four years since the band’s influential release Daydream Nation. It still has the same frantic energy as their earlier albums. Produced by Butch Vig, there is minimal polishing and smoothing out of Sonic Youth’s sound on this album unlike the sound on later releases. The distorted guitars and Gordon’s raspy vocals are immediately recognisable. Some songs come in at two and half minutes, but none stretch further than six minutes so there’s a lot packed in to the 59-minute album, which features both Gordon and Moore’s vocals with Lee Ranaldo featuring once on ‘Wish Fulfillment’.
I remember looking at the back of the CD cover and thinking what a bizarre bunch of song names. ‘Orange Rolls, Angel’s Spit’, what on earth could that be about? There are so many themes explored on this album; there’s the political ‘Youth Against Fascism’, ‘Swimsuit Issue’, which refers to a record label employee who sexually harassed women, and ‘Sugar Kane’, which is said to be about Marilyn Monroe, although it could easily be taken as a song about drug addiction. They also pay homage to their friend Joe Cole in the song ‘JC’, who was a roadie for Hole and Black Flag, murdered at the end of 1991 whilst in the company of Henry Rollins.
Some footage of Sonic Youth touring with these songs before the release of the album feature on 1991: The Year Punk Broke which is further recommended viewing for anyone with a love of the early 90s grunge scene.