Considering that Sonic Youth lost Jim O'Rourke and found the custom-tweaked, irreplaceable guitars that were stolen in 1999 before heading into the studio to make Rather Ripped, it seemed that the album could be a big departure from what they'd been doing on Murray Street and Sonic Nurse -- possibly a return to the kind of music they could only make with those instruments, or perhaps an entirely different approach that reflected their revamped, old-is-new-again lineup. Rather Ripped ends up being of a piece with their previous two albums, and often plays like a stripped-down, slightly less-inspired Sonic Nurse. Once again, Kim Gordon contributes some of the best tracks here; "Reena" and "Jams Run Free" are equal parts dreamy and driving, while "The Neutral" is a sweet, low-key love song. Thurston Moore contributes a gently but powerfully political track à la Sonic Nurse's "Peace Attack" with "Do You Believe in Rapture?," a reflection on peace and apocalypse that's mostly serene, even if the guitar harmonics throughout the song add shivers of doubt and tension. "Rats" is a standard-issue Lee Ranaldo song, freewheeling and poetic (and with lines like "Let me place you in my past/With other precious toys," it has the sharpest lyrics on Rather Ripped), even if it's not quite as amazing as the previous album's "New Hampshire." Rather Ripped's rock songs are solid, but not amazing -- the interplay of Moore's and Ranaldo's guitars and Steve Shelley's drumming are the best things about "Sleepin' Around" and "What a Waste." Actually, the more atmospheric songs end up being some of the most compelling. "Lights Out" reeks of whispery, late-night cool, and the closing track, "Or," is one of the sparest and most oddly unsettling songs Sonic Youth has done in a while (not to mention a reminder that quiet doesn't always mean peaceful in this band's world). Rather Ripped is also surprisingly lean, with the songs on its first half feeling so tightly structured that they seem like radio edits. Only "Turquoise Boy" and "Pink Steam" really open up and deliver Sonic Youth's famously sprawling, jam-based sound. If Rather Ripped is a tiny bit disappointing, it's only because the band's playing outpaces their songwriting ever so slightly. It's a solidly good album, and if taken as part of a trio of albums with Sonic Nurse and Murray Street, it shows that Sonic Youth is still in a comfortable yet creative groove, not a rut.
Rather Ripped Review
by Heather Phares