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Hits Are for Squares

Sonic Youth

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Album Review

Leave it to Sonic Youth to put a twist on the typical greatest-hits album. Originally released in 2008, Hits Are for Squares features tracks selected by writers, artists, actors, and musicians. With a roster of curators that includes Alison Anders, Radiohead, Chloë Sevigny, and the Flaming Lips, this comp could have become a contest to pick the most obscure song (if it were, then Sevigny would win with her selection, “World Looks Red” from 1983’s Confusion Is Sex). For the most part, however, the album sticks with well-known tracks, with a smattering of songs that would be considered hits: “Kool Thing,” “Teenage Riot,” “Bull in the Heather,” and “Sugar Kane” all appear without feeling too obligatory. Indeed, the bulk of Hits Are for Squares comes from Sonic Youth’s alternative nation heyday in the early to mid-‘90s, with special attention paid to Dirty and Goo (two of that album’s cuts, “Disappearer” and “Mary-Christ,” were chosen by Portia de Rossi and David Cross, respectively). Yet just as many songs come from 1987’s sometimes overlooked EVOL, including the haunting “Shadow of a Doubt” and the album’s closing epic, “Expressway to Yr Skull.” Speculating why certain songs were chosen by certain people is entertaining in its own right; Diablo Cody's choice of the subversive-yet-heartfelt Carpenters cover “Superstar” seems to make perfect sense, given the nimble way she balances kitsch, irony, and genuine emotion in her own work. Likewise, Eddie Vedder's choice of “Teenage Riot,” one of the most earnest moments in Sonic Youth's songbook, feels spot-on. The band’s body of work is broad and deep enough that most fans probably have custom mixes of their own favorite songs, so for them, this collection is more pleasant than essential, though the inclusion of an exclusive track, “Slow Revolution,” may push diehards to get the album. Still, like the greatest-hits collections it tries to avoid being like, Hits Are for Squares works surprisingly well as an introduction to Sonic Youth's sound and approach.

Biography

Formed: 1981 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Sonic Youth were one of the most unlikely success stories of underground American rock in the '80s. Where contemporaries R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü were fairly conventional in terms of song structure and melody, Sonic Youth began their career by abandoning any pretense of traditional rock & roll conventions. Borrowing heavily from the free-form noise experimentalism of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and melding it with a performance art aesthetic borrowed from the New York post-punk avant-garde,...
Full Bio