Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Youth on Fire

The album that made alt-rock more than a daydream gets a vital bonus disc

*****

SONIC YOUTH
Daydream Nation: Deluxe Edition
Geffen

Loosed on the world in 1988, Daydream Nation made alt-rock a life force. Over two vinyl discs containing just fourteen titles, it fused Sonic Youth's displaced guitar tunings with tunes as hummable as the Beatles' or the Ramones' -- a standard they've matched ever since, but never again with quite so much anthemic consistency. The album's evident mastery won them a major-label deal they're still working even though their three singers have never shown any commercial potential. And soon they persuaded Geffen to sign a band whose singer did: Nirvana.

Heard today, Daydream Nation's evocation of sonic youths with talent to burn and nowhere to build a fire is clearly rooted in the specifics of a Manhattan bohemia since transformed by Internet money and real estate sharks. Post-irony, its confusion-as-sex seems almost innocent. But its tunings keep it honest and its anthems keep it thrilling. A terrific bonus disc compiles covers that do justice to the band's ambition -- Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick," Neil Young's "Computer Age," the Beatles' "Within You Without You" -- and unearths live versions of every Daydream Nation song. These are rough, intense, welcome. But the studio versions are definitive, as dense as cluster bombs. "Your life is such a mess/Forget the past, and just say yes"? "You can buy some more and more and more and more"? As words, admissions of futility. Atop marshaled guitars, artistic war cries.

Rolling Stone, June 28, 2007