SONIC YOUTH – “The Diamond Sea” (Album Version)

We were dressed in dreams in those days, now weren’t we? Sonic Youth squandered fame many times, from the horrible not-even-pretending-to-try compilation and soundtrack cuts to their obtuse contempt in The Year Punk Broke. Here was a moment where they gracefully lived up to the status they’d earned. They weren’t a voice from a hidden counterculture anymore — they were the culture. (Top 40 debut for Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, don’t you forget it). Or one visible side of the culture anyway. And the culture or one side of the culture, oh hell, I and I think the people I hung out with needed fresh myths, needed a last slow dance, needed new anthems, new epics. Needed, in short, cheese. And Sonic Youth wasn’t just there to cannily deconstruct the cheese from outside — they were here to manufacture new flavours from new materials. For a moment, all those things, large-scale myth, belief in short, could mean to us, some of us anyway, could not seem other and alienating.

And we begin with a watery movie-fade ballad, with its earnest mythic lyrics. There was no irony here — this was meant and you believed or you didn’t. The harmonics break out like fireworks, not to blow up the ballad as they might have ten years earlier, but to celebrate and enhance it. The guitars push to climax and then lock into a grind dissolved only by one more plaintive verse. And we come to the churning drone, the slowly shifting scape where we stepped back and saw all we believed to have in front of us. Frozen, we could only watch fascinated as the feedback descended savagely. And it meant, of course, destruction and freedom and release and ecstasy all at the same time, so cheesy but so immediate, so visceral, so possible — it was then, wasn’t it?

Oh laugh. I do. Belief is always more risible than hip haughty detachment. It’s so much less embarrassing to believe in “Society is a Hole” than in some nonsense about looking-glass girls and jewelled water. But for 20 minutes, we — oh go on, I know some of you did too — felt and feel that nonsense. And you believe or you don’t.