Goo turns 30: the album that made Sonic Youth cooler than your Nan’s first spliff.
Credit: Geffen Records//DCG/Sonic Youth
Goo knows it’s cooler than you, but it never misses a chance for a mosh pit.
If you’ve ever wanted to find out what walking through Greenwich Village with your washed out jeans, ironic t shirt and oval sunglasses on sounds like, here is your answer.
For plucky New York every-people Sonic Youth, the late 80s had been tumultuous. Their groundbreaking, seminal 1988 record Daydream Nation had brought them to the forefront of the alternative scene. Their hazy, gritty sound, impossible to truly pin down, was now a critic’s delight.
A new decade and a new label meant a new direction for the band. 1990 saw them release Goo, a record that set the template for the style and sound of the 90s alternative explosion.
Not that they were going to drop everything that had built them up to this point – every second of the album still carries that same visceral, metallic sharpness that adorns their previous material. A few of their infamous noisy soundscapes to poke through too.
But the lyrics are no longer about Phillip K Dick novels or the impact of Reagan-era socio-economics. Now they’re about getting laid in California (‘Dirty Boots’) and patriarchy in the music industry (‘Kool Thing’). The background of drugs and flannel shirts remains, but you get the sense that the band wanted to take a far more conventional approach.
And boy does it work. Sure, you might miss their shoutier lyrics, but here the vocal delivery is slicker than oil. The production doesn’t have the wild, untamed feel it used to, but instead it injects its thrill with so much more precision. The record packs vicious, inspired guitar riffs for days, and gorgeously hardcore instrumentation throughout.
It’s here that the cool factor comes alive. Every second mixes attitude with the aesthetic of that iconic album cover. The band don’t need to acknowledge you, you’re not even close to the level of hipster they’re on. Just listen to how ‘My Friend Goo’ struts around your sound system as though it just walked off of the cover of DIY magazine.
Goo may well be that fine-beer drinking friend, head to toe in vintage clothes, who barely makes eye contact and talks about the last post-modern art exhibition they went to. But don’t think for a second that it’s overly snobby. It knows full well that it tip-toes along the line of pretentiousness, but it never shies away from getting down and in it. When the mosh pit starts, they don’t hesitate to be the first to jump in.
Goo never misses a moment to be cooler than your Nan’s first spliff. It’s totally composed, every piece of its outfit carefully curated. When things get a bit rough and edgy, it’s leading the charge with a filthy bass line or an explosive riff. As ‘Titanium Expose’ rounds the album off, balancing dynamite explosiveness with Kim Gordon’s untouchable level of swagger (seriously, the way she sings “Sugar babe, sugar babe, do it to me” puts the whole of Tumblr and VSCO combined to shame), there is no question that Sonic Youth had become way more than stoned no-wavers. They’d earned their place in alternative music history, and now they were ready to define the whole scene.
30 years on, Goo plays an essential part in the Sonic Youth back-catalogue. It was the end of their noise rock-dominated releases and the start of their more conventional 90s alternative rock era. It would bring them headline sets at Reading Festival, a fashion collaboration with Marc Jacobs and saw their sound evolve further than ever before. As a taster palette for all that, Goo is as good as it gets.
It lives in the wake of the simply unbeatable Daydream Nation, yet never once tries to live up to its towering achievements. Some fans will prefer the crazed psyche of their previous releases EVOL and Sister, or the more full-bodied experience of its follow-up Dirty, but Goo hits the mark for sheer thrill-factor.
The early 90s is chock-full of alternative rock classics. But while Nevermind and Automatic for the People are placed on pedestals today, Goo sits in a league of its own, unphased by fame or big sales. An uber-cool, dexterously pretentious release that is as slick as alternative rock gets.
Never heard of Sonic Youth and looking to be indoctrinated? Check out my guide to their essential releases to get an idea.