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Sonic Youth - Corporate Ghost: Videos, 1990-2002

Universal // Unrated // June 8, 2004
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted July 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
I was a bit late getting into music, just a few years behind my peers. Blame it on a sheltered environment. Blame it on having obscurer and, at the time, harder to find (pre-"alternative" as a definition) tastes. I don't know. Regardless, the first bands I really fell in love with were The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth.

It is pretty fitting that I review Corporate Ghosts, a collection of Sonic Youths videos tracing their post sellout (aka. get better distribution, royalties, and security) career, because one of my first cd purchases was Sonic Youth's 1990 major label debut Goo. Some of the videos will be familiar to even the most casual fan or early-mid 90's Alternative Nation/120 Minutes viewer, like "Kool Thing, Dirty Boots, 100%", and "Bull in the Heather." But, I found that I had no idea many of them even existed, for instance "Mary-Christ, Hoarfrost, Disappearer", and "The Diamond Sea."

Well, it is obviously pointless to review every single video. If you don't like their music, you're not buying it, and if you do like them, it is the kind of collection you definitely will want to have at your disposal even if there are underwhelming videos you aren't likely to repeat view too often.

So, as it is, you do see a thread of Sonic Youth's staunch commitment to the kind of artistic culture that spawned the band (for lack of a better term, their "NY underground" art roots). Their evolution in the major label years found the band exploring a tighter, cleaner sound. The alternate tuned, no wave, noise rock that defined them, their abstract crescendos of feedback with bratty leanings, was honed into a more melodic, yet still distinctive, outfit.

The videos do an excellent job of showcasing how the band straddled the line between artistic collaboration and corporate concessions. On Goo, for example, they decided to have a video piece for every track, and the result is two polished commercial friendly videos (the singles) for "Kool Thing" and "Dirty Boots" with the rest of the tracks getting very budget treatment by different directors, including Richard Kern's soft core musing for "Scooter & Jinx", low fi video artist Tony Oursler's "Tunic (Song for Karen)", and drummer Steve Shelly's distorted pastiche interpretation of "Mary- Christ."

Their most commercial clips came from their second major label album Dirty. We see some stuff that was novel in the early 90's, like the skateboarding/house party vibe of in Tamra Davis/Spike Jones "100%" and the grunge fashion parade of Nick Egan's "Sugar Kane". Egan also delivers one of the bands most mainstream videos, "Youth Against Fascism", complete with excessive text fx, rock posturing, and a glossy veneer ready for the pages of SPIN. There are fewer videos for the albums that followed (Experimental, Jet Set, Trash, and No Star- Washing Machine- A Thousand Leaves- Murray Street- NYC Ghosts and Flowers). An edited version of "The Diamond Sea" (the album version is a 19 min epic) showcases the band live. Eccentric indie brat Harmony Korine delivers stunning ballerina and Macaulay Culkin imagery for "Sunday". Lee Ranaldo gives "Hoarfrost" quaint and fitting treatment via his home videos. Clean freak, overspending Marc Romanek infuses "Little Trouble Girl" with inappropriate, clinically cold, and sci fi gimmicky aesthetics.

The DVD: Universal

Picture: Varies depending on the source, some videos have basic video, some 16 or 8mm, some DV. So, most are standard ratio but there is the occasional widescreen vid. The earlier videos from Goo have the most low rent look and as time goes by the productions get a little slicker with a few exceptions. Overall, the transfers are excellent with no technical problems whatsoever.

Sound: PCM Stereo. Thankfully they stuck to a stereo track that is faithful to the music rather than go with some faux surround mix. The only real problem/ complaint I could find was with the commentary audio which has a varying volume level. They should have evened out the tracks so that, no matter how weakly it was recorded, every track is even and you don't have to adjust the volume video to video.

Extras: Commentary. The band delivers commentary for 20 videos, while the directors/performers have commentary on a total of fourteen videos. The band plays it pretty straight and dry but still make the tracks well worth a listen. Some of the director/performer tracks were obviously overlapped tracks using comments from interviews, but they still work.— Bonus videos: "Drunken Butterfy" and "Swimsuit Issue", two contest winning fan videos from the album Dirty. "Disappearer" Director's Cut. Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) original cut of the video (still in rough timecoded form) that was deemed "uncommercial" and edited by the record label. "Ono Soul" from Thurston's solo album Psychic Hearts.— "Spikes Eye" (11:03). Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovitch) shows some pictures he took of the band during the making of the "100%" video and details his relationship with the band and how they (mainly Kim) helped him get his feet wet in the industry.--- "Sonic Spiel" (19:01). Documentary on the band, mainly on the band as collaborators, featuring video directors such as Dave Markey, Richard Kern, Todd Haynes, and Tamra Davis, as well as the likes of Mike Watt and Kathleen Hanna. Ends with a Sonic Youth live performance.— "My Sonic Room" (8:10). Made during the Goo era, an extremely cute and touching fan video by Patty Orsini. The teenage Orisini sent the band this tape which chronicles her painting her entire bedroom wall with the cover of Goo. Her ease and frankness as she converses with the camera (effectively- the band) is very cute.--- Personal Playlist option— Oh yeah, and you get a nifty Sonic Youth sticker.

Conclusion: Excellent package for Sonic Youth fans. There was obviously a good deal of attention when putting together the materials, so the disc doesn't skimp. If you are a fan- get it.

It should also be noted that (according to the back of the DVD) an "independent" videography is currently in the works.

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Highly Recommended

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