By the time Dirty arrived in mid-1992, the world had at least sort-of caught up to Sonic Youth. Grunge had “broken,” Nirvana had gone platinum, and the polish and machismo that Sonic Youth had always opposed was in cultural decline—if not outright commercial retreat. “I would like to thank everybody for not going to see Guns N’ Roses tonight, and for coming to see Pavement and Sonic Youth instead,” Thurston Moore told a crowd that September. He was joking. Probably. But it was also the first and probably only time in the band’s 30-year history when it could’ve been true. Dirty marked Sonic Youth’s scuzzy, power-rock moment, as evidenced by the lust of “Sugar Kane” and the relentless attitude of “Drunken Butterfly.” The group had been hip-hop fans since the mid-1980s, but on Dirty, you can finally hear it—especially via Kim Gordon, who managed to be both the most sophisticated-sounding part of the band, as well as the most primitive and pleasurable (“Orange Rolls, Angel’s Spit”). Dirty even had a kinda-hit, thanks to “100%”, which made it to the Top 5 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart (a weird feat on its own, and even weirder when you realize it was next to Morrissey and U2—bands that, in the world of Sonic Youth, might as well also have been Guns N’ Roses). So shout it loud with the windows down: “I’ve been around the world a million times/And all you men are slime” (“100%”); “Don’t touch my breast” (“Swimsuit Issue”); “I believe Anita Hill” (“Youth Against Fascism”). Sonic Youth would never make anything as tonally unified as Nevermind, and the group would certainly never soundtrack a barbecue or a rock-block like Pearl Jam’s Ten. But in its own, oblique way, Dirty came close.

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