Album: Washing Machine
. . .
In a way, it was inevitable that Sonic Youth would eventually record a song that was nearly 20 minutes long. But what wasn’t inevitable, of course, was that said 20 minute long song — OK, fine, 19:36 to be precise — would be so good, especially since the last two-thirds was nearly guitars circling each other with perfect interlocking swirls, the audio equivalent of that sea of diamonds before eventually noisying everything up.
Of course, no one would give a shit about that if the first part of the song wasn’t so good. I know I mentioned “Sugar Kane” as probably the epitome of Sonic Youth going pop, but honestly, it has absolutely nothing on “The Diamond Sea,” which sports such an absolutely gorgeous melody, Lee Ranaldo said that they’d finally written a hit.
Well, don’t get ahead of yourself, there. That said, “The Diamond Sea” opens up with guitars literally shimmering and singing “yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo” before Thurston Moore comes in and sings the first verse, accompanied by Kim Gordon’s bass, a quiet beat from Shelly’s drums and Ranaldo playing leads around the melody.
Time takes its crazy toll
And how does your mirror grow?
You better watch yourself when you jump into it
‘Cause the mirror’s gonna steal your soul
That said, while the singing section of “The Diamond Sea” has two distinct parts, Moore never bothers singing the same thing twice on what I’m assuming to be the chorus part.
I wonder how it came to be my friend
That someone just like you has come again
You’ll never, never know how close you came
Until you fall in love with the diamond rain
After three times around with the verses and choruses, it’s instrumental time. And it’s a classic Sonic Youth slow burn rave up, things getting slightly louder and weirder measure after measure, guitars yelling and squealing at each other, so locked in that it almost feels like we’re listening to something that is almost too private to share, as it builds and builds and builds and builds to that inexorable moment where the rhythm section has basically stopped trying to hold a beat, and everyone is crescendoing at the same time.
Eventually, of course, they get back to the singing part for one last verse and chorus, finishing it off with this:
Look into his eyes and you shall see
Why everything is quiet and nothing’s free
I wonder how he’s gonna make her smile
When love is running wild on the diamond sea
At this point, we’re only eight minutes or so into the song, and you won’t hear another human voice again on the record.
“The Diamond Sea” was a ballsy, stunning end to Washing Machine, and it signaled that Sonic Youth was going to let the songs be however long the songs were going to be, and eventually established their own label to release their most experimental music while staying (relatively) within the rock song boundaries on their future records.
Meanwhile, DGC did release an edited version on a CD single, to no avail.
“The Diamond Sea”
“The Diamond Sea” Official Video
“The Diamond Sea” live on the Late Show With David Letterman, 1995
“The Diamond Sea” live in Germany, 1996
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