The track list of Confuse Yr Idols: A Tribute to Sonic Youth is telling: Out of eleven songs, only one is gleaned from an album released after 1992’s Dirty (that would be “Little Trouble Girl,” from 1995’s Washing Machine, if you’re keeping score. And there are no ditties from Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, the record that turned off more fans than the East Coast blackout). And since a tribute album is supposed to be the death knell for a band’s creative relevance anyway, casual onlookers might presume Sonic Youth to be dead, buried and sentenced to an eternity on the Hullabalooza tour, which was supposed to appear in a Syndication Stadium near you, before it got axed due to poor ticket sales.
But me, I’ve treasured SY’s more recent albums over their revered Older Stuff; the just-don’t-give-a-fuck weirdness of 2000’s NYC Ghosts & Flowers gives me a bigger charge than Sister-Daydream Nation-Goo, the band’s putative peak. And I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who thinks this way — at least four other dudes I’ve met on Friendster share my views, so there.
Anyway, track selection is my biggest beef with this album, but the actual cover versions of those tracks are no great shakes either. Most bands seem content to obscure their chosen song’s original tune or vocals or both, perhaps believing that Sonic Youth’s genius lies in their pretensions (when it actually lies in the war they wage between their pretensions and their love for a good melody, plus that ever-present monkey wrench Is This All a Perverse Joke?).
So you get pretentious, insufferable renditions of “Cinderella’s Big Score” and “Shadow of a Doubt” and “I Dreamed a Dream,” not to mention two deadly “Death Valley ’69″s. But you also get Rapider Than Horsepower’s aforementioned take on “Little Trouble Girl,” which is actually quite beautiful until the singer-dude’s bozo vocals bog it down (ha ha, groan); and you get Tub Ring’s lounge/swing spin on “Kool Thing,” featuring a robotic Chuck D sound-alike on backing vocals (talk about a paranoid android — and the song is actually a funny perverse joke, unlike most early Sonic Youth).
There’s other okay shit too. Best song by far is New Grenada’s punkish version of “Eric’s Trip” — might actually be better than the original. But really, if you liked Sonic Youth’s first decade of existence, do yourself a favor and dip into their new stuff. They’ve got a new album out; it’s called Sonic Nurse and it is great. Give it a whirl. Open yr mind.