The Whitey Album' is not Sonic Youth's long-rumored cover of the Beatles' entire White Album. Better than that, these New York guitar reconstructionists have come up with their own "Revolution Number 9" for '89, a dizzying collage of violently overhauled chart hits, sound-sculpture mischief, experimental riff shrapnel and art-punk gags stitched together with deviant whimsy.
Cut by Sonic Youth's Madonna-fixated alter ego, Ciccone Youth, The Whitey Album is just as jarring in its disunity and fuzzy in its focus as John Lennon's original splice 'n' dub smorgasbord. It is also compelling in its eccentricity and inspired in its trashing of the Top Forty (Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love," Madonna's "Into the Groove"). The Whitey Album the follow-up to a 1986 Ciccone Youth EP that also featured Firehose bassist Mike Watt is willful, fragmented nonsense that actually makes a whole lot of sense.
There's certainly no better icon of the art of artifice than the real Ms. Ciccone. And there's no better testament to Ciccone Youth's contempt for cheap sentiment than the album's two Madonna covers. "Into the Groove" is transformed into a song of blunt sexual possession ("Into the Groovey"), scraped raw by grunge guitars and drained of any superficial charm by Thurston Moore's deadpan vocals. Mike Watt's corrosive four-track treatment of "Burnin' Up" a Ciccone Youth demo from 1986 crackles with self-destructive obsession, powered by a frenetic drum machine and scrappy electric guitar.
"Addicted to Love" is more dry comedy than electric drama; bassist Kim Gordon sing-speaks over a synthby-numbers backing track. But The Whitey Album is basically about the collision of extremes. And you don't get more extreme than the juxtaposition of Palmer's blasé designer soul with the dark, industrial choogling of primal guitar meditations like "Platoon II" and "Macbeth." There's also white aggro-rap ("Tuff Titty Rap"), distorted junkyard boogie ("Needle-Gun"), an "underwater" drum solo (a takeoff on John Bonham's "Moby Dick") and, at one point, a minute's worth of total silence.
It all adds up to an astonishing, engrossing, often brilliant and just as often frustrating mess, much like Eighties rock itself. With its recent masterpiece, Daydream Nation, Sonic-Ciccone Youth has already torched what's left of the decade. The Whitey Album is its record for dancing around the ashes. (RS 549)
(Posted: Apr 6, 1989)
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