The band insists this is an album, so we’ll call it such, but really, at 25-minutes in length, it’s more like an EP. One-shot drummer, Richard Edson, makes some of the less interesting songs interesting (“She Is Not Alone,” “I Don’t Want to Push It”) by adding the sort of rhythms that Lizzy Mercier Descloux was infatuated with. He’s the MVP here. Second place goes to Kim Gordon, who’s “Working youth / Fucking youth” at least sounds cool (“I Dreamed I Dream”), and the backing vocals by Lee Ranaldo in the same track are effortful, if nothing else. Thurston Moore tries to ruin “The Burning Spear” with his blabber. Everyone shuts their mouths for “The Good and the Bad,” which is directionless but surprisingly listenable.
Their worst album; at least their debut EP/album – in addition to being blissfully short – had a better drummer, who was interesting enough to keep things moving forward. His replacement, Jim Sclavunos, does nothing but keep time. He was kicked out once the band figured that out. The vocals might be some of the worst I’ve ever heard, effectively somehow managing to virginize one of the sexiest songs ever made – shouting the lyrics to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” without a hint of sexual frustration that made the original a classic (a lifeless intro doens’t help things, either).
“Protect Me You” has some of the most inspired singing on the album, but relies on atmosphere as a crutch instead of a vehicle (as opposed to their more domestic songs from the 90s-onwards). On the other side of things, “Lee is Free” is a nice reprise for people who don’t want to hear bad singing although I wish they had done more with it, since it reveals that it goes nowhere halfway through, but otherwise brings me to a haunted playground where the merry go-round spins by itself and there’s no wind. “Shaking Human” is the best song here, with an intro that would’ve done mentor Glenn Branca proud, while Kim Gordon provides an actual melody and a well-executed climax in the proper song.
For a band as inherently sexual as Sonic Youth – their name implies sex, music is sex, youth is sex – and for an album titled Confusion is Sex, they sound like their knowledge of sex comes from pornography.
A companion EP to Confusion is Sex, which you can find attached to the proper album on reissues. Here, you will find songs that are on that album (“Protect Me You” and “Shaking Hell”), songs that are live versions of songs that are on that album that have better vocals but worse production and thus, worse overall (“Shaking Hell”) and songs that were left off with good reason (“Brother James” and “Early American”). But it’s worth it for “Kill Yr. Idols,” Thurston’s only good vocal performance pre-1985 and a bridge that makes everything I criticized about drummer Jim Sclavunos obsolete.
EDIT: A bit frustrating, the amount of flak Robert Christgau gets, often by people that you can tell, took one of his bombs or scissors on one of their favourite records a bit too seriously. Here’s a blurb from Kim Gordon’s (excellent) Girl in a Band: “Robert [Christgau] was the other big music critic of the time along with Greil, but he basically ignored us. Robert and the Village Voice, the downtown New York City weekly he wrote for, were never sympathetic to Sonic Youth.” Just more frustration: never, Ms. Gordon? He’s given 13 items of your discography an A-score, including one A+, and including a bunch of your late-period records that no one else are sympathetic towards (ie. The Eternal).