Wednesday, July 28, 2021

'Disappearer' helped build Sonic Youth's commercial profile

"Disappearer," the song delivered to me Tuesday by my Pandora blogging challenge, was released in 1990 as a single from Sonic Youth's sixth album, Goo. But I'm going to go with it as a deep cut in the band's catalog, as I have found no evidence that the single ever charted anywhere.

I can't even find a clue that Sonic Youth performed the song live very often, at least not enough that anyone has been able to dig up a video. All I could find on YouTube was an MTV-style music video.

"Disappearer" is a Thurston Moore-sung track that clocks in at 5:08 on Goo, Sonic Youth's major-label debut. It was the second single released from Goo, following the better-known "Kool Thing." "Disappearer" is a fairly structured song as Sonic Youth songs go, with two verses, a noisy instrumental bridge, a third verse and a feedback-drenched closing chord. Nothing particularly stands out about the track other than that it's unmistakeably Sonic Youth and as close to conventional as Sonic Youth ever gets.

The lyrics seem to be Moore's thoughts as he tries to capture a fleeting idea that keeps eluding his grasp. You know the internal conversation I'm talking about: You had a great idea yesterday, but now you can't remember what it was, it had something to do with this or that, maybe it'll come to you later if you stop trying to remember it.

The single's cover, featuring porn star Traci Lords

Robert Forster played a character called The Disappearer in Breaking Bad a couple decades after this song appeared. He was a vacuum-cleaner salesman by day and a sort of witness-protection coordinator for criminals by night. I can't make a connection between the Sonic Youth song and the Breaking Bad character. I guess it's possible someone in the Breaking Bad writer's room just liked that word and decided to use it.

Goo was released by DGC Records, a subsidiary of Geffen Records. It was a followup to the band's breakthrough, Daydream Nation, released in 1988 by independent label Enigma Records. Goo was their first album to chart on the Billboard 200, getting as high as No. 96. All nine Sonic Youth albums after that did chart as the band remained commercially viable until their breakup in 2009.

Daydream Nation generated quite a lot of critical buzz upon its release and is still considered an alternative-rock masterpiece. The lead single, "Teen Age Riot," did get some FM radio play and prompted me to pick up the album on CD. I recall that the fairly structured "Teen Age Riot" was surrounded by a lot of freeform and seemingly aimless noise, so I never got into it much despite the accolades. Listening to Goo now for the first time, it is clear to me that Sonic Youth was making a distinct effort to be noticeably more focused, quite possibly reaching for some commercial relevance. It definitely worked for them.

Rolling Stone ranked Goo No. 358 on its 2020 list of the 500 greatest albums. Along with Daydream Nation, Goo is considered one of the defining works of the 1990s alternative and grunge movements. I can appreciate Goo more than Daydream Nation, but I'll never listen to either of these albums much.

Sonic Youth is one of those bands I can appreciate in small doses. I really like their well-known songs when they turn up on my Pandora or YouTube feeds -- "Bull in the Heather," "Teen Age Riot," "100%," "Incinerate" spring immediately to mind. And I did enjoy them live. I caught their Goo tour as an opening act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I've never been able to sit still for an album dive. I've tried, it just doesn't happen. The only Sonic Youth album I've ever been able to get through happily is the 2008 compilation Hits Are For Squares, which does include "Disappearer." 

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