Sonic Youth makes great pop songs shrouded in feedback. But when it tilts too far toward either pop or noise, the result is the inconsequential attempt at crossover of 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star or the meandering avant-garde statements of 2000’s NYC Ghosts and Flowers. The band hits the perfect balance on its new, perfectly paced seven-song CD, Murray Street: The sparkling guitars of “Karen Revisited” are so rhapsodic it’s almost a relief when they dissolve into noise; the jabbing squeaks and squalls of “Plastic Sun” are given a punky turbulence by bassist Kim Gordon’s blustery vocals; the elegant bridges and grandly fuzzed-out guitar solos of “The Empty Page” constitute some of their most expansive work ever. The pleasures described on Murray Street – from tripping to kissing – are given the quality of a lucid dream, placing the album in the somnolent, near-hallucinogenic tradition of everyone from the Electric Prunes to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Murray Street is like falling asleep with the TV on and waking to rapturous white noise.
paradise garage owner mel cheren once described the lushly orchestrated soul of Gamble and Huff productions like “The Love I Lost” as “black opera.” The very same could be said of producer Raphael Saadiq’s first solo album, Instant Vintage, which has a sprawling, multi-instrumental sheen influenced by the Philadelphia sound. Saadiq is in many ways as innovative as his forebears: His early nineties band Tony! Toni! Toné! melded the utopian leanings of Sly and the Family Stone with hip-hop’s machine-driven funk long before the manufactured marriage of “hip-hop soul” presided over by P. Diddy. And Instant Vintage bravely reclaims R&B as inspiring, emotive music at a time when it’s dominated by technophile producers and their affectless molls. On songs like “Body Parts” and “Be Here,” Saadiq revives a sense of romantic longing in R&B not heard since the exquisite urges of Prince songs like “Anna Stesia” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” And like Prince, Saadiq isn’t afraid to admit sharing real pleasure with women as opposed to just getting off. “You’ve found my weakest spot,” Saadiq sings in his nasal, polysexual croon on “Still Ray.” But the real pleasures of Instant Vintage lie in its “Gospeldelic” (Saadiq’s term) sound – shimmying organs, exuberant strings, and wiry, bluesy guitar-playing. Saadiq is the rare auteur who brings heart to his soul.
Murray Street (Geffen).
Instant Vintage (Pookie/Universal).