Sonic Youth are one of the true gods of independent rock of the last 20 years. Like their towering ancestors, the Velvet Underground, SY has made a career out of mixing straight rock and roll music and free-form noise into ever newer and more creative forms, creating an incredibly diverse body of work that now includes over 15 full-length albums. Goo, the first of Sonic Youth's major label releases, is now 15 years old, and has been re-released in a 2-disc deluxe edition.
Goo is an odd entry in Sonic Youth's oeuvre, appearing as their major label debut after the epic breakthrough of their two most highly regarded albums, Sister and Daydream Nation. Those two records had found a perfect balance between the arty, angular noise of their earlier recordings and the more straightforward rock structures of their later work. So, it is difficult to see Goo outside of the shadow of those two masterpieces - it feels very much like a transition album, coming down off of a recent climax. The infamous opening track, "Dirty Boots," promises more than this - it is the masterpiece of the album, and a real indication of SY's newfound ability to rock out. It's a pity, really, because the rest of the album cannot possibly measure up. "Tunic" seems very much like a rehash (and an inferior one at that) of Daydream Nation tracks such as "The Sprawl," and "Mary-Christ," in both form and content, seems to ape Sister's more successful "Catholic Block." None of these tracks are bad, really, but they are uneven, and uninspired. The noise passages of the album (particularly the ending of the 8-minute "Mote") seem tossed off and poorly integrated, as if the Youth put them there just for the sake of having a little noise. The exceptions to this unevenness are the propulsiveness and bizarre harmonics of the beginning movement of "Mote," and the trancelike "Disappearer." But, while the album has its successes, it ultimately has too much baggage to be considered one of the better Sonic Youth albums.
For long-time Sonic Youth fans, though, all this is old news. The question is, does the quite large amount of extra material presented here make this a worthy purchase? The answer will depend on how fanatical you are about this band. The real treasure here is the first two-thirds of the second disc, which are the widely bootlegged early demos of the Goo sessions. They are, for the most part, longer and slower than their more polished counterparts, and while they are interesting in getting a sense for Sonic Youth's development during this period, they are not particularly great music in themselves. The highlight is most likely "Blowjob (Mildred Pierce)," clocking in at over four times the length of the recorded version. The rest of the deluxe edition's extras are less interesting… the cover of the Beach Boys' "I Know There's An Answer" is mildly amusing as is the advertisement piece "Goo Interview Flexi," but for the most part this stuff hasn't been released before for a reason.
So, is this worthy of a purchase? In the long run: probably not. The Sonic Youth fanatic that wants everything the band has ever released will, of course, snatch it up right away. But, for the casual Sonic Youth fan, having the original version of Goo will certainly suffice, and for the completely uninitiated there is far too much here that will not interest them at all. In general, what's new here doesn't justify the higher price tag. Just buy the original album instead.