The Whitey Album (Blast First)
Melody Maker, 14 January 1989
By Simon Reynolds
Next to the brittle plangency and luminous, labyrinthine depths of Daydream Nation, the first (and last?) Ciccone Youth album is an irrelevance.
The delays surrounding its release have stranded The Whitey Album in an unhappy mid-region between the timely and the timeless. All its bearings (hip hop, Madonna, Robert Palmer's 'Addicted To Love') are decidedly passé, the year before last year's things. And where Daydream Nation is a work, The Whitey Album is a ragbag of tired japes, off-the-cuff ideas that must have seemed bright at the time, plus some interesting if somewhat aimless experimental excursions.
Of course, Sonic Youth have always had a throwaway side to their collective personality, have always had the potential to lapse into half-assed pastiche, a la Pussy Galore, and perhaps we should be grateful that they invented an alter-ego in order to safely vent all this buffoonery without marring the immaculate trajectory of the Sonic Youth oeuvre.
If The Whitey Album is a receptacle for a group's wayward impulses and off-moments, then its most miserable items of waste (of their talent and our time) are the ones I can only describe as conceptual jokes. '(silence)', for instance, is a sped-up version of John Cage's original "4 '33" – that's to say, a couple of minutes of silence. 'Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu!' also describes itself succintly – it's a tape of Kin Gordon and someone called Suzanne discussing the merits and demerits of managing Dinosaur Jr, then ringing up J. Mascis only to find he's out. It's precisely the kind of found recording that Krautrock groups like Faust, Can and Neu! liked to include in their psychedelic collages – hence the irony of having Neu! droning away in the background.
'Addicted To Love', like 'Into The Groove', is Sonic Youth invading a superstar's psyche Take Two, a gesture whose irreverence has palled somewhat in the wake of Age Of Chance, Laibach, Pussy Galore et al. In this case, Kim Gordon goes into a make-your-own-record booth to lay down her wan vocal over an extremely lame session band's version of Robert Palmer's chauvinist anthem. Droll.
The Whitey Album isn't irredeemable. The soiling sheets of noise draped over Madonna's 'Into The Groove' are still a delight. And there are at least three tracks to dwell on and dwell inside. 'G-Force' has Kim murmuring non-sequiturs and shards of banal conversation in the midst of unhinged drones and infinitely receding resonances. 'Platoon II' seems to be recorded in an underground silo; it's an ambient dubscape, stressed and fatigued metal sounds striated and stretched out to form a wombing vastness. 'Macbeth' has a predatory beat and sounds of metal chafing against metal. These tracks look forward to the ambient innovations of parts of Daydream Nation, and back to the experiments of groups like Faust and Can in the early Seventies.
The Whitey Album is a for-fans-only affair, but if it's purged Sonic Youth of silliness, then it's served a purpose. And it highlights the rival definitions of post-modernism that Sonic Youth find themselves torn between. On the one hand, post-modernism, according to Transvision Vamp/Pussy Galore – pastiche, plagiarism, irony, the idea that there's nothing left to do in pop but play around with cliches. On the other hand, post-modernism as the chaos of a culture falling apart at the seams. Put The Whitey Album next to Daydream Nation and it's apparent how small and obsolete mischief seems next to mental breakdown.