Sonic Youth’s move to a major label in 1990 was a pivotal moment in indie rock history: Not only did the band members anticipate the erasure between “mainstream” and “alternative” music that Nirvana would finalize a year later, they demonstrated that they could be conservative when it came to business, yet still radical in their music. With the move to DGC, Sonic Youth got a bigger budget for touring and marketing, and a reliable series of checks. Don’t let the childish album title fool you: Goo was proof that the four avant-garde noisemakers in Sonic Youth were growing up. The major-label jump didn’t provoke an ethical dilemma for the band members—at least, not in the way it would for other artists in the 1990s, which saw an almost Red-Scare-style panic around the concept of “selling out.” As Thurston Moore put it in the oral history Our Band Could Be Your Life: “At the time, there was no such thing as [being] proud to be indie. Being indie was just sort of, like—there was nothing else you could be. Major labels had no interest.” As a result of their business smarts, the band members got paid—as did many of their friends—and the group held on to its creative freedom. In many ways, Goo was an extension of the same arc Sonic Youth had been on since 1986’s Evol: The riffs were bigger (“Dirty Boots”), the songs were more legible (the Chuck D-featuring “Kool Thing”), and the combination of mystery, intelligence, and danger that had always made Kim Gordon magnetic got the spotlight it obviously deserved (“Tunic (Song For Karen)”). Later, Lee Ranaldo said that part of the reason the band went to a major label was because they’d meet fans in places like Montana and Wyoming who didn’t know where to buy their albums. With Goo, Sonic Youth would be on shelves next to Guns N’ Roses and Paula Abdul. The savvy was to realize that if you’re gonna confront rural teens with the idea of “[liberating] girls from male white corporate oppression” (“Kool Thing”), you probably have to adjust your approach accordingly. The interesting thing is that they almost did it. For the fans that the band had in mind—both real and imagined—Goo was evidence of a much bigger world outside.

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