Lee Ranaldo – Between The Tides and The Times Album Review
How does Sonic Youth's "George Harrison"'s latest solo work stack up against the seminal work of his day-job?
Think of Sonic Youth. When most, and I imagine you’re no different, think of Sonic Youth they think of noise rock’s power couple. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, would be the most often name checked and revered persons that come to mind, indie icons as they are. Sonic Youth’s own Lennon and McCartney, with more sexual tension. Actually, sexual release and fulfilment I’d speculate given that they got married and had a daughter. Which is a darn sight more than Lennon and McCartney managed with their working relationship. If only though.
Anyhow, yes, it’s alternative’s own Mr and Mrs Right (though now in line for a divorce, as any review of this album seems adverse to not mentioning or anything in relation to Sonic Youth, I’m no different it seems, whatever) or Lennon/McCartney that come to mind when musing on Sonic Youth, not often, and unfortunately so, does Sonic Youth’s ‘George Harrison’ spring to mind.
Founding member, shit hot guitarist, melodious songwriter and quiet one of SY, much like George had been restricted to one or two songs at his helm (per album) over the years. Classics in their own right though, like Eric’s Trip amongst others.
However all along Lee has had a steady in hand in his own affairs, at this point he has a considerable number of solo albums under his belt, collaborations, excursions into art both visual and sound, poetry and the list goes on; a regular renaissance man. Though this solo effort is likely to be his best bet yet for a bit of gratitude.
Sonic Youth officially on the backburner for now (indefinitely or definitely is still up for speculation), a few noteworthy friends roped in (Wilco’s Nels Cline, Sonic Youth’s own Steve Shelley, jazz organist John Medeski, guitarist Alan Licht and former Sonic Youth cohort Jim O’Rourke) delivering a full band focus beyond his previous more acoustic or noisy inclinations, Between The Times and The Tides has a lot of promise as Lee Ranaldo’s time to truly shine.
Shine though he does, it’s a shame then that a comparison to his day job is what shines through most. This is no bad thing of course, Sonic Youth being one of the most seminal and influential bands to stumble out of the art/alternative/indie spectrum of rock, second only to The Velvet Undergound, it’s just well… there’s a pretty extensive back catalogue already in existence if you want to listen to them. Though what we do get here is the sound of the band had Ranaldo had more shots at the helm, and no doubt that then matured in melody. As the band has notably in later years favoured sprawling subdued melody over sprawling cathartic noise.
Waiting On a Dream gets things started with that familiar slacker driving pace but Ranaldo’s guitar lines twinkling melancholy all across its atmosphere and his distinct drawl delivering the lyrics frustration. Off The Wall stands immediately as a contrast with the weird pop that The Velvet Undergound favoured in their later period and the upbeat melancholia of Thurston Moore’s solo work, it’s a diamond bit of alternative guitar pop.
Xtina As I Knew Her starts all organ and lead guitar atmospherics like Pink Floyd under David Gilmour’s command would have put out but as the layers build and the vocals come in, it’s Sonic Youth that comes to the fore, though the song plays between both these styles throughout as it rises and falls. Hammer Blows stands out as a subtle acoustic piece for the most part, until the layers of noise build underneath, though that tricks been done too many times before.
And that’s kind of where the album shortfalls the most, in its air of familiarity. For the most part Lee Ranaldo could well just be doing his day job, but not quite as well. There are some great little moments in here, and perhaps where he shines through the most is when he does go outside the template, goes a little bit down the 60s route melody wise, gets a little more pop. Like the final track Tomorrow Never Comes, the title in itself a nod to Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles, takes a constant beat and just plays around on top of it, much like Tomorrow Never Knows itself. Though the key difference being where Tomorrow Never Knows was a pop writer experimenting with noise, we have here a noisier song writer really honing his pop sensibilities and the outcome is a lovely little psychedelic gem.
Generally it’s an enjoyable album, though it’s a little prone to falling flat or treading all too familiar territory but there’s enough on offer to enjoy and maybe expand upon if he soon finds himself out of a day job. Musically there’s plenty to go on, though lyrically (and for a poet) there’s a lot left wanting; too many lazy associations for forced rhymes instead of real meaning.