Lee Ranaldo – 'Between The Times And The Tides' (UK Release: 19 March '12) // Words: Simon Opie
Band chemistry is a powerful influence and being a founder member of Sonic Youth, with a thirty one year history must be heavily addictive. Of course it wasn’t enough to keep Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon together and so maybe SY is no more? Undeterred, another co-founder, Lee Ranaldo has released what he somewhat mystifyingly calls his first real solo album, perhaps in an attempt to escape the ghosts of the past.
Recruiting a talented bunch of cohorts including Nels Cline and Alan Licht, the album gets off to a fairly inauspicious start with the opener, 'Waiting On A Dream', whose main riff is strongly related to the Stones’ 'Paint It Black' – a horrible starting point, in my opinion. From there, the album meanders a bit, perhaps showing that had Ranaldo been the prime mover in Sonic Youth they would have sounded rather like REM. The more so since Ranaldo’s vocals sound quite like Michael Stipe, although without his gift for lyrics – Ranaldo’s regularly border on the banal. In any event he singularly fails to escape his roots.
Songs like 'Xtina As I Knew Her' and 'Angles' are closely related to 'Murray Street' era SY (a very fine album, by the way) but although there’s nothing wrong with them, there’s nothing remarkable either. 'Between The Times And The Tides' reminds me of Bob Mould’s 'District Line' solo album and it suffers by comparison. Both Ranaldo and Mould (Husker Du) are veterans of the post-punk explosion that also spawned Pearl Jam, Nirvana and a whole generation of alternative bands.
Both are respected musicians who have earned the right to be comfortable in their own skins. Both albums are mature works, returning to a simple narrative song structure, with no trick plays, and great musicianship, informed by experience. But whereas Mould’s album seems to be about something vital, for all its veteran calm and assuredness, Ranaldo’s album lacks a core, and at times comes across as disappointingly vacuous.
I must confess I’m really a fan of Ranaldo’s avant garde forays - where he truly does break new ground and play with fire. This album is well performed, and with the ability of the players involved that should be guaranteed. What it lacks, it seems to me, is a spark of inspiration and a healthy degree of discomfort – both prerequisites, you might say, for great music.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Lee Ranaldo - 'Off The Wall' (right click, save as)
'Between The Times And The Tides' is available to purchase from Matador Records etc.