Universal Studios Home Video presents
Sonic Youth: Corporate Ghost (1990-2002)
"We're banging pots and pans/To make you understand/They're gonna bury you man/It's the song I hate/It's the song I hate."- Thurston Moore (from Youth Against Facism)
Stars: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo, Steve Shelley
Other Stars: Kathleen Hanna, Kim Deal, Chuck D
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains images that may be disturbing to some viewers)
Run Time: 01h:43m:28s
Release Date: 2004-06-08
DVD ReviewThe consistently innovative music of Sonic Youth is an acquired taste, and many listeners often don't give them the chance they deserve. Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo, and Steve Shelley have been crafting inventive rock music for more than 20 years, and they show no sign of quitting anytime soon. Each album is its own unique statement, and they're always searching for new ways to destroy the boundaries of the genre.
I became a devoted Sonic Youth fan in the early '90s as my music tastes expanded during late high school. My first time seeing them live occurred during REM's Monster tour in the summer of 1994. Sonic Youth opened the concert in Kansas City, Missouri and played a blistering 40-minute set that left me yearning for much more. Luckily, they were named the headliners of the next year's huge Lollapalooza tour, which also included Pavement, Beck, Cypress Hill, and Hole. Sonic Youth played an impressive 90-minute set and failed to disappoint, but countless concertgoers headed for the exits. Following the easy-to-digest crowd pleasers of Cypress Hill and Hole, this act mystified the mostly young crowd. The band doesn't seem to mind, as their music will never reach mass audiences. However, they have enjoyed considerable success on a major label (Geffen) since 1990. Praised by critics and adored by devoted fans, Sonic Youth continues to thrive with little assistance from MTV or alternative radio. Once the darlings of both segments, they've now been replaced by Korn, P.O.D., Puddle of Mudd and other generic groups destined to be forgotten in the near future.
The 23-video collection Sonic Youth: Corporate Ghost begins with Dirty Boots, one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs, which makes use of a striking guitar riff. This video presents a straightforward rock performance in a small club and two kids falling in love. The flannel-clad audience and moshing reveals the specific nature of the underground music scene in 1990. While this video is fairly straightforward, Mary-Christ features grainy, black-and-white images that are frenetic and differ considerably from the more linear nature of the singles. Kool Thing is this type of song and became one of their most recognizable hits. This stylized video includes an appearance by Chuck D and brings Kim Gordon to the forefront. It's interesting to note that nearly half of this collection's tracks come from 1990's Goo album. At that time, Sonic Youth commissioned an array of talented directors to craft a video for every song from the album. One clever example is Phil Morrison's work on Titanium Expose in making it like the credits to a film.
The remaining non-Goo tracks provide an impressive variety of both the MTV and home-video styles. Bull in the Heather brings the crazy dancing of Kathleen Hanna into the mix, but it also provides an energetic video that drew considerable airplay on MTV. On the other hand, the simple argument between two kids in a band for the recent Disconnection Notice is not the type to earn much notice. But that has never been the predominant goal of Sonic Youth. Their memorable cover of Karen Carpenter's Superstar leads to a somber, classic video, but it was not created to earn new fans. Instead, it works as a homage to a talented artist that the band admires. This respect for the arts has always fueled the work of Sonic Youth, and it continues to drive them to new heights today.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
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Image Transfer Review: This compliation contains an array of videos with a wide disparity between the individual budgets, so the image quality will vary considerably. Such major videos as Kool Thing and Bull in the Heather utilize impressive visuals, while home-video style videos like Disconnection Notice are less notable. However, all of them provide a clear picture consistent with its original format.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: It would be a terrible shame to release a Sonic Youth DVD without the best-possible sound quality, and this disc fails to disappoint. In similar fashion to the image transfer, the quality does vary signficantly depending on the video's nature. The most impressive tracks like Dirty Boots, Bull in the Heather, and The Diamond Sea provide a powerful listening experience. While this audio only comes in the 2.0-channel stereo format, it still packs a mighty punch.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 23 cues and remote access
37 Feature/Episode commentaries by Sonic Youth, various directors, and participants in the videos
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
- Bonus videos for Drunken Butterfly, Swimsuit Issue, Disappearer Director's Cut, Ono Soul
- Personal Playlist
This disc also contains a worthwhile collection of additional supplements, including Sonic Spiel—a 19-minute feature offering interesting comments and stories from a variety of talented figures. Mike Watt talks about playing a gig with Sonic Youth with his band Firehose and relates an unfortunate tale involving the dislocation of his knee. He also conveys a great deal of respect for the group. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill speaks about meeting Sonic Youth and her experiences in dancing crazily for the Bull in the Heather video. The consistent theme of all the statements is not just the group's musical talents, but also their friendliness towards directors and other artists. In a similar vein, Spike's Eye has acclaimed video and film director Spike Jonz perusing his photographs and describing his connection to the band. It lasts about 11 minutes and includes some great black-and-white pictures.
If the main feature's 23 videos weren't enough for you, four more entries are provided as extras. Two of them are directed by fans, so they're fairly basic, but they still are entertaining. The better one is the Drunken Butterfly video, which includes goofy puppets playing their instruments in the Sonic Youth manner. The Swimsuit Issue video is just plain bizarre, as it consists of regular guys taking their shirts off and smoking. Both videos were part of a contest the band coordinated with MTV for fans to craft a video for any song from the Dirty album. Sonic Youth spent hours viewing all the entries on their tour bus, which they describe as both tedious and enjoyable. There's also an alternate director's cut of Disappearer from Todd Haynes (Happiness) that was chopped by Geffen Records. The final video for Ono Soul comes from a Thurston Moore solo release and provides an impressive rock number.
My Sonic Room is the final supplement and comes from Patty Orsini, a devoted Sonic Youth fan. In 1991, the teenager became so enamored with their music that she painted her entire wall with the cover from Goo. The rest of her room also contains an array of Sonic Youth materials. During the eight-minute video, she presents her impressive drawing and even gives them directions to her house. This feature could be considered a bit scary, but it also showcases a fan's intense devotion and the importance of this band to her daily life.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsAlthough it only covers their major-label career starting in 1990, Sonic Youth: Corporate Ghost provides a wonderful collection for Sonic Youth's devoted fans and a good introduction for the casual listener. Their videos may often lack the glitz of the typical rock videos, but they nicely match the tone of each song. The abundant commentaries and other intriguing extra features should keep viewers busy for a long time. The back cover says a "pre-sellout 'independent' videography" is forthcoming, which should provide even more excitement for devotees like myself. Kool thing indeed!
Dan Heaton 2004-07-14