Though releasing their 16th studio album, Sonic Youth have managed to slip under the radar of the mainstream for most of their long and fruitful career, flirting with fame (outside of the indie community, in which they are worshipped) only when Incinerate, taken from 2006's Rather Ripped, recieved a good amount of radio airplay, and Superstar got into the soundtrack of the hit film Juno.
When first listening to this album, it feels like Sonic Youth have regressed more than progressed. It could be that their indie vehicle has veered too close to the mainstream for their liking, or for their fans' liking, so they have deliberately headed back to the early 2000s sounds of Murray Street and Sonic Nurse; it could just as easily be an unconscious returning to that sound, or it may be something that only I have perceived. However, The Eternal does remind me of those albums, less mellow than Rather Ripped, and with generally longer and more noise-filled songs.
You may notice, I am not raving about this album, yet. With Sonic Youth, the music recorded in the last 10 years is very different to their original trademark sound, but in each era, they record a lot of similar music. It feels like Sonic Youth are retreading old ground here. Admittedly, it is ground that they paved (or should that be broke?), but movement forward is slow and...a little boring.
Having said all that, looking at The Eternal out of context, this is a great album of good songs. Opening with the unnerving chords of Sacred Trickster, it matches the standard of any of the young bands around today. Sonic Youth will not be left behind. They are on a platform of their own - listen to the cryptic lyrics of Anti-Orgasm, the rocking 'woah-woah's of Thunderclap, the beautiful timbre of the guitars in Walking Blue or the profound lyrics and gorgeous bassline of What We Know for proof.
You could compare Sonic Youth to Jane Austen. Yes, she basically wrote the same book loads of times, but they're all classics, aren't they? They're all praised, and they all epitomise their genre. Well there you go. Sonic Youth have done it again.