It would have made a certain kind of sense if post-punk graybeards Sonic Youth had filed a freaked-out, more-outré-than-thou album of pure noise as their last CD for Geffen. But to their credit, they've put their variously tuned guitars and famous (though now somewhat mellowed) New York attitude in the service of a much different kind of muse. Instead of a hyper-cool concatenation that approximates the screeching of subway trains and other iPod-melting belchings of the urban sound factory, the Youth put a point on the most commercially visible phase of their 25-year-plus career with a batch of songs that ring with harmony and melody and pump out the kind of musical uplift one expects more from U2.
On "Reena," the album's utterly accessible opener, Kim Gordon veritably coos "you keep me coming home again" to a mate/lover (perhaps hubby/bandmate Thurston Moore) who fires her head, heart and presumably sexy bits. The music that drives her performances is almost as bright in tone and purpose, with a couple layers of shimmering guitars coming across more like an aural approximation of a gold-flecked Byzantine mosaic than a pitted, oil-and-cum-stained slab of NYC asphalt.
More sonic sweetness comes on the Moore-fronted "Do You Believe in Rapture?," which mostly wafts over a heartbeat tempo and an oozy miasma of controlled "industrial" sounds. The rather straightforward lyrics "- a knock on eschatologists and other big-event, big-emotion fantasists - are typically corrosive, but taken with the music and Moore's pleasant delivery they're more bloodletting nip than flesh-tearing bite.
There is some rockier stuff, but it's in the minority. In fact, the bolder portions of Lee Ranaldo's eerie, distortion-soaked "Rats" almost seem out of place here. I wouldn't go so far as to call Rather Ripped a complacent album, but it's certainly restrained.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Much like many of their 40- and 50-something peers, Sonic Youth have embraced the predictability of an established, settled life, and that's reflected in the music they're making.