Album: The Eternal
. . .
A short history of the cosmic quadrangle of Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Wilco & Pavement.
Note: While I’m sure some stuff happened in the 1980s, things really got going in the 1990s.
- 1992: R.E.M.’s Peter Buck produces Uncle Tupelo’s March 16-20, 1992 album.
- 1993: Pavement contributes “Unseen Power of The Picket Fence,” a song about R.E.M., to the No Alternative compilation.
- 1994: Pavement covers R.E.M.’s “camerA” as the b-side to “Cut Your Hair.”
- 1994: The film and album for Backbeat — a look at the early days of the Beatles — is released. Mike Mills of R.E.M. joined Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth — plus other luminaries — to as part of the “Backbeat Band” to record the songs for the album.
- 1994: Thurston Moore contributes guitar to “Crush With Eyeliner” on R.E.M.’s Monster album.
- 1994: Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins Free Kitten, Kim Gordon’s side project with Julie Cafritz from Pussy Galore. He plays on their mid-1990s albums.
- 1995: Sonic Youth opens for R.E.M. on the Aneurysm tour. Rox & I see that show at the dread Shoreline Ampitheatre the night after an absolutely killer Wilco show at Slim’s in San Francisco.
- 1995: Sonic Youth and Pavement are part of the 1995 Lollapalooza tour.
- 1999: Jim O’Rourke joins Sonic Youth for the 1999 SYR album Goodbye 20th Century. He also plays on NYC Ghosts & Flowers, Murray Street and Sonic Nurse, the last two as an official member.
- 2000: Jeff Tweedy, Jim O’Rourke & future Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche record the initial Loose Fur album, which isn’t released until 2003. O’Rourke also mixed Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album.
- 2003: Wilco opens for R.E.M. on their 2003 tour. Rox, Tim & I saw them the Hollywood Bowl, the night Tony Clifton joined them to sing “Man on the Moon.”
- 2004: Jim O’Rourke produces Wilco’s A Ghost is Born and leaves Sonic Youth. He also contributes to Wilco’s 2007 Sky Blue Sky.
- 2006: Former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins Sonic Youth for the Rather Ripped tour, he also plays on 2009’s The Eternal, credited as an official member.
- 2007: Rox & I see Wilco at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. I have a memory that Sonic Youth opened, but I have zero proof of that, so it’s probably a false memory.
- 2010: Tim & I see Sonic Youth open for Pavement at the Hollywood Bowl as part of Pavement’s first reunion tour. It is the fifth or sixth time I saw Sonic Youth in concert. Ibold only plays during Pavement’s set.
- 2011: Both R.E.M. and Sonic Youth break up, the former because they were at the end of their contract and felt like they’d said everything they had to say and the latter because Kim Gordon discovered Thurston Moore had been cheating on her.
Since then, Sonic Youth and R.E.M. have stayed broken up, though there has been a steady stream of posthumous releases & reissues from both camps, Pavement is now playing yet another reunion tour, and Wilco is still going strong, having just released their 12th studio album — 15th if you count the Mermaid Ave records, which I do — Cruel Country.
Whew!! Since this was mostly off of the top of my head — I googled a couple of things to make sure I got the dates right, of course — I’m sure there are connections that I missed. And so we are here to praise Sonic Youth one last time, as their final “pop” album, The Eternal came out in 2009, not on Geffen, but on Matador.
For me, the highlight of The Eternal is Lee Ranaldo’s “Walkin’ Blue,” where his guitar, Thurston Moore’s guitar, and Kim Gordon’s guitar start out playing licks and eventually sound like air-raid sirens after the first verse. There’s also another cool bit of harmonies with Ranaldo & Moore on the choruses.
Everything we see is clear
Everything we feel
After the final chorus, it’s rave-up time, as the air-raid siren guitars rip and roar around Steve Shelley’s drums and Mark Ibold’s bass, eventually getting more and more dissonant until the song finally ends.
At the time, of course, we didn’t know Sonic Youth was already on the pathway to breaking up, so the reaction was “ho-hum, another really good Sonic Youth album,” though I gotta point out that The Eternal was Sonic Youth’s highest-charting album, making it to #18 on the Billboard Album Charts. And while this represents that period where legacy artists albums charted high because all of their fans — like me — were buying the physical media, it still counts. (For those of you who were curious, their previously highest charting album was 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, which topped out at #34.
I have no idea if any of their albums went gold. The only sales source I could find was their Wikipedia discography, and the sales numbers on that are from 2005. At that point, their biggest-selling album was 1992’s Dirty, with 329,000 sales. Even the sainted Daydream Nation had sold less than 200,000 copies by that time. So who knows how it’s changed in the last 17 years?
Of course, like so many great and influential artists before them, Sonic Youth’s impact can’t be measured by sales, but rather all of the artists that they helped and inspired over the years — many of whom did have massive sales — and by that measure, they were one of the all-time greats.
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