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**** SONIC YOUTH "Goo" DGC : Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).

July 15, 1990|JONATHAN GOLD

Sonic Youth is the Rolling Stones of noise music, a band imitated as often as Aerosmith and a source of strength to alienated college students all over the globe. A lot of smart people think it's the best band in the world. But as the avatar of '80s indie underground rock, finally making its major-label debut, Sonic Youth faces a conundrum: How does an aggressively confrontational band make (a) a commercial record without (b) selling out?

The answer, of course, is to make the record an elaborate joke on the idea of making a commercial record, a hermetic, album-length parody that's the equivalent of putting those waggling-finger quotation marks around the whole thing.

The songs revolve around catchy, nonsensical choruses--things like "My friend Goo / Just says, 'P.U.' " or "I don't wanna / I don't think so"--that stick with you as insistently as anything ABBA ever came up with. Great swaths of dissonant guitar noise move the way radio hooks are supposed to, and they become radio hooks themselves. There's always a beat to grab on to, sometimes tribal, sometimes poppy, but always danceable, and "Goo" rocks as hard as Mudhoney, while working on about half a dozen more levels. Call "Goo" the "Exile on Main Street" of the snide generation.

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