Album: Murray Street
. . .
In July of 1999, 27 of Sonic Youth’s guitars got stolen, along with a bunch of equipment and merch. And of course, these were the pre-tuned, utterly-fucked up guitars that they’d been using for years and years at this point. And while the 27 guitars that were stolen was a blow, it wasn’t a killing blow. And they responded with NYC Ghosts and Flowers, an album that I didn’t like — and infamously received a 0.0 in Pitchfork, which, no — which felt like the experimental side of their music had totally overwhelmed their ability to write songs.
Much more like it was the follow-up, Murray Street, an album that got interrupted by the events of 9/11. In fact, Jim O’Rourke, who had become a member of the band, was sleeping in Echo Canyon studio — on Murray Street, just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center — when the first plane hit. After that, chaos, fear and panic.
None which you can hear on the opening track of the album that they eventually released the next year, Murray Street, a return to what passed for Sonic Youth normal — said normalcy signified by the album cover feature Thurston & Kim’s child playing outside with another kid — especially on the reassuring opening track, “The Empty Page,” which has multiple guitar hooks, a hummable melody, and an opening verse that stuck in your mind.
These are the words but not the truth
God bless them all when they speak to you
But that’s alright
On an empty stage
Sing out when
There’s no other way
This was all done over subdued guitars and a straightforward beat from Mr Shelley, though things got reliably noisy and crazy in the middle, but within the parameters of a song, and only lasted for a short period of time before coming to a dead stop, restarted by the guitars playing the same licks that had started the song, and slowly building to one of the more gorgeous outros in a Sonic Youth song.
The empty page has wasted down
The empty page is ripped
The empty page will waste this town
The empty page has slipped
What I love most about this section is that it has something you almost never hear on a Sonic Youth record: vocal harmonies. That’s Lee Ranaldo singing along with Thurston, and for a band where the lead vocalist is nearly always the only voice you hear, is as unexpected as it is lovely. That Sonic Youth could still surprise me after all that time, and surprise me with something as simple as a vocal harmony, was a great sign as they entered their third — and final — decade.
“The Empty Page”
“The Empty Page” live on Carson Daly, 2002
“The Empty Page” Live in Germany, 2002
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page