A jarring, grinding, emotionally-charged, 1992 rock album by indie rock Gods Sonic
Youth; which saw them plumb the depths of the then newly-birthed 'Grunge' musical
movement; or so many would believe; with a glossy sheen of guitar noise scrambling and
twisting frenetically; bound to thick bass grooves and motorik, pumping beats; and
overlaid with whispers, snarls, growls and screams that are spoken-sung and manage to come
across as melody, inflection and tone. In short, another classic dutifully delivered
by dependable indie mainstays, Sonic Youth.
The effect of listening to this album is somewhat narcotic, albeit discordantly so;
it was their most tuneful effort up to that point (before Murray Street), but it still
remained rockingly noisy and with a sense of playfulness and intelligence that made it
different from other mainstream rock acts at the time like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and
Guns 'N' Roses, but not too dissimilar to acts like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins,
Red Hot Chili Peppers or the newly-formed bands Elastica and Stereophonics (though
Dirty possessed a more distorted sound than the latter two). The album proved to be Sonic
Youth's most mainstream effort to date and also their most commercially successful,
widening their fan base and introducing them to a new generation of fans. Entertainment
Weekly, one of the more populist of the entertainment publications, deemed it to be the
best record of 1992. (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,312797,00.html)
The irony of this was that Sonic Youth was born of the intellectual, cultural,
artistic elite that Entertainment Weekly is the antithesis of. Robert Christgau, the dean
of American Rock Critics, mentioned in a review that "...as fun as it would be to hear
[Dirty] roaring from a passing boombox, I don't think it'll fly." And so it is.
With Dirty, Sonic Youth managed to create an appealing pastiche of ugly and beautiful, of
noise and melody, on a major label release; but; they do it on their terms, without
sacrificing their ideals and beliefs, which basically entails that the music is
And it is here, on 15 tracks (35 on the Deluxe Edition Re-Issue); music that
simultaneously soothes and burns, destroys and nurtures, a sort of shamanic, tribal
journey, where one has to wash away the dead life with flames to re-emerge on the other
side; cleansed; though feeling a bit crispy. It might not be an easy journey to take, and
like all good rock music, it'll kick your ass a bit in addition to expanding your
consciousness and giving your ears a riotous sonic workout; but if you enjoy rock music and
music in general and have the patience to sift the melody and tune from the dissonance and
noise, your reward is the proverbial aural pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The
tracks are; in order:
- "100%" (lyrics Gordon/vocals Moore) – 2:28 - The opener screeches and sinews its way
into a rockin' tune that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is dedicated to dead
friend, Joe Cole. Also the first single off the album, with a music video featuring Jason
- "Swimsuit Issue" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 2:57 - This feminist diatribe has Kim Gordon
asking "Why are you so meano?", with drums pounding madly in the background, like African
talking drums on amphetamines.
- "Theresa's Sound-World" (lyrics/vocals Moore) – 5:27 - Probably the most beautiful song
that Sonic Youth had ever done up to that point, with shimmering waves of guitars and
cymbals and Thurston extolling upon a 'Light girl'.
- "Drunken Butterfly" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 3:03 - More trademark Kim ranting
("pleasure is mine") on this almost metal-esque distortion/reverb-drenched workout.
- "Shoot" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 5:16 - A foreboding, atmospheric exposition on an
abusive relationship; it descends into a cacophonous breakdown sometime after the mid-way
- "Wish Fulfillment" (lyrics/vocals Ranaldo) – 3:24 - My favorite song on the album, a
love song, its beauty is in its discordance.
- "Sugar Kane" (lyrics/vocals Moore) – 5:56 - The 3rd single off the album, the video
features Thurston singing in the middle of a Grunge fashion show. Another love song.
Includes the line, "Kiss me like a frog", and the most poppish chorus heard so far in a
Sonic Youth song.
- "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 4:17 - Kim screams through this
rocker about a manipulative woman. Best use of a 'la la la' chorus in a rock song yet.
- "Youth Against Fascism" (lyrics/vocals Moore) – 3:36 - Thurston Moore et. al against
Bush Senior and Clarence Thomas. Features Ian MacKaye of Fugazi on guitar.
- "Nic Fit" (Untouchables) (vocals Moore) – 0:59 - A cover of a track by The
Untouchables, noise jam.
- "On the Strip" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 5:41 - A good rock ballad on the heady illusion
and labyrinth of glamor and rock-and-roll; has a guitar feedback freak-out near the end.
This song does not have a bass line, instead it uses a three guitar and drums lineup.
- "Chapel Hill" (lyrics/vocals Moore) – 4:46 - About the North Carolina town of Chapel
Hill, a frequent gig location for Sonic Youth, and has references to the scene there,
including a reference to the Cat's Cradle; a venue where Sonic Youth regularly performs.
- "JC" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 4:01 - An emotional, plaintive ode to Joe Cole, a friend
of the band who was shot and killed in a robbery at his home.
- "Purr" (lyrics/vocals Moore) – 4:21 - Thurston sings to a girl, in a sort of demented
speed-blues love song about levitation, leather boots and super-soul.
- "Créme Brûlèe" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 2:33 - Kim's exultations on the joys of
summertime and friendship, with a staggered guitar riff chugging in the background. Soft,
quiet and fitting.
The Deluxe Edition re-issue, released on March 25, 2003, on the DGC label, added 20
more songs and was spread across two CDs. Track-listing ensues:
- "100%" – 2:28
- "Swimsuit Issue" – 2:57
- "Theresa's Sound-World" – 5:27
- "Drunken Butterfly" – 3:03
- "Shoot" – 5:16
- "Wish Fulfillment" – 3:24
- "Sugar Kane" – 5:56
- "Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit" – 4:17
- "Youth Against Fascism" – 3:36
- "Nic Fit" (Untouchables) – 0:59
- "On the Strip" – 5:41
- "Chapel Hill" – 4:46
- "JC" – 4:01
- "Purr" – 4:21
- "Créme Brûlèe" – 2:33
- "Stalker" – 3:01
- "Genetic"(lyrics/vocals Ranaldo) – 3:35
- "Hendrix Necro" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 2:49
- "The Destroyed Room" (lyrics/vocals Gordon) – 3:21
- "Is It My Body" (Alice Cooper) – 2:52
- "Personality Crisis" (New York Dolls) – 3:41
- "The End of the End of the Ugly" – 4:19
- "Tamra" – 8:34
- "Little Jammy Thing" – 2:20
- "Lite Damage" – 5:22
- "Dreamfinger" – 7:41
- "Barracuda" – 4:22
- "New White Kross" – 1:29
- "Guido" – 3:50
- "Stalker" – 3:37
- "Moonface" – 4:44
- "Poet in the Pit" – 2:41
- "Theoretical Chaos" – 3:07
- "Youth Against Fascism" – 5:03
- "Wish Fulfillment" – 3:50
The artwork for the album was designed by Mike Kelley and features a series of
seemingly innocent, somewhat creepy stuffed animals. Photos of the band were taken by
Richard Kern. The album itself was produced and recorded by Butch Vig and mixed by
Andy Wallace. The original Japanese release of the CD had a bonus track, Stalker, which
was included on the original vinyl release and the Deluxe Edition Re-Issue. The original
Japanese release also had a lyric sheet included; something which is missing in all the
other releases. Some editions of the CD release had a tray liner photograph depicting
performance artists Bob Flanagan and Sherry Rose, naked and defiling various stuffed
animals. Buy it now. If you have not already, that is. If not, buy it on vinyl.