Ciccone Youth. Sonic Youth. Sonic Ciccone. What is it like to listen to the Whitey Album more than thirty years after its release? At the time it was a blast! How? Sonic Youth!? The sonic ensigns, bearers of the avant-garde New York rock scene payed homage to Madonna, the lady of pop par excellence?! You can get hurt! Especially if buying that record in 1988 required some extra effort than the more accessible “Daydream Nation” that came shortly after. I’m afraid it wasn’t understood very much, it was eclipsed by “Daydream Nation”, by the signature with Geffen Records, by grunge that became a worldwide phenomenon. I don’t think it was the object of a whim, of a sophisticated dada flash. Sonic Youth wanted to bring rock back to the light, they wanted to renew it by creating a sophisticated aesthetics shared between outsiders such as free jazz, contemporary composition, No Wave and adolescent rock’n’roll.
All rejecting any simplistic hypothesis that saw them as something other than a contemporary rock formation, aligning themselves both with the American hardcore’s thriving movement and with the artistic scene of the downtown New Yorker, thanks to their roots firmly planted in the No Wave, the guitar ensembles of Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham and the Gordon’s experience as an Artforum’s collaborator. Thanks also to the presence of Wharton Tiers, the real deus ex machina behind this record and hundreds of others from that period.
At the beginning it was supposed to be their homage to the Beatles. The complete remake of the Beatles’ White Album, released in 1968, a record very different from the previous psychedelia, a double LP imbued with raw, subtle, sad and eccentric creativity at the same time. A very interesting material for Sonic Youth. In January 1988 the sonic four entered Wharton Tiers’s studio creating an intricate tangle of noise, primitive plays with the beatbox, glimpses of spoken words, naive raps, and karaoke covers such as “Addicted to Love” performed by Kim Gordon.
An irresistibly intelligent proposal that nevertheless threw a bit of turmoil among fans fond of their more “classic” structures.
Listening to it today, one almost wonders if there was Brian Eno’s hand behind it. The Whitey Album sounds almost like a product of its Oblique Strategies and maintains its sense of humor. The misappropriation of Madonna’s “Into the Groove” approached the Dadaist desecrations carried out by groups like Negativland and referred to the deconstructions of “My Life In a Bush of Ghost” by the award-winning company Eno-Byrne. Moore sang on Madonna’s original record, filtered through an overloaded microphone while a very dirty fuzz guitar increases the dose on the changes. It is difficult to understand if this quotationist embrace is ironic pastiche or affectionate tribute. The Whitey Album anticipates by at least two decades the exaltation of pop/trash culture in all its manifestations, consecrating as a Andy Warhol game a fantastic, vulgar karaoke job, like a mustache drawn in a ballpoint pen on a cheap poster.
How brilliant is the imprint of a gigantic sneaker on the inside of the album case. “The Whitey Album” exudes experimental love for hip-hop, with a skeletal drum machine used on purpose with simple patterns of deaf beats, on which guitarists stratify waves of interference. “The Whitey Album” is a work so conceptually unbalanced as to put, from an exquisitely creative point of view, Daydream Nation in the background. It is like listening to the 80s being dismembered and centrifuged together with a semiotically phenomenal speed. Listening to it after more than thirty years helps us to understand how far the intuitions of that group were, whose insatiable enthusiasm for the contemporary manifestations of the sounds of our complex society led to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the music to the borders.