. . .
OK, here we go. One of the tests of all-time great artists is the “four albums in a row” test, which is exactly what it sounds like: did that artist release four albums in a row that are amazing. Yes, I know it’s all kind of wrong, but it’s also all all kinds of fun.
And in retrospect, I think that Sonic Youth begins their four-album run right here and now with 1987’s Sister, an album where they were consciously trying to write more structured songs.
Which isn’t to say that they were all verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-verse-chorus-chorus or anything crazy like that. It’s just that the felt more like structured songs, even though if you look under the hood, they were still anything but normal.
Like the opening track “Schizophrenia,” which opened with the sound of Steve Shelley’s way underrecorded and incredibly primitive sounding drums, followed by guitars that are more low-key than you might expect from a song called “Schizophrenia,” over which Thurston Moore sings:
I went away to see an old friend of mine
His sister came over, she was out of her mind
She said Jesus had a twin who knew nothing about sin
She was laughing like crazy at the trouble I’m in
Her light eyes were dancing, she is insane
Her brother says she’s just a bitch with a golden chain
She keeps coming closer saying, “I can feel it in my bones
Schizophrenia is taking me home”
Moore sings this matter-of-factly, like it was something that actually happened, and indeed, at the very least, “Schizophrenia” was based upon Kim Gordon’s older brother, Keller, as well the writings of Phillip K. Dick, who’d had a twin sister who died just after they were born, a thing that fucked with him his whole life.
After that verse, the guitars of Lee Ranaldo and Moore start dancing like fireflies around Steve Shelley’s drums, jingling and clattering at the same time, setting up Kim Gordon’s verse, which was adapted from a previously unrecorded song. Her verse sounded nothing like Moore’s, nor did it even scan like his. Of course, a pair of verses with nothing in common makes sense for a song called “Schizophrenia.”
My future is static
It’s already had it
I could tuck you in
And we can talk about it
I had a dream
And it split the scene
But I got a hunch
It’s coming back to me
After that, there is a bit of a rave-up, guitars tornadoing around each other while the drums spinout, but it’s not very long, because “Schizophrenia” is mostly tension, mostly waiting for something bad to happen, which — at least in this song — never does.
“Schizophrenia” live in London, 1987
“Schizophrenia” live in Belgium, 1991
“Schizophrenia” live in France, 2005
“Schizophrenia” live on Pitchfork in 2012
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