The Eternal is the fifteenth and final studio album by Sonic Youth, released by Matador Records on June 9, 2009, their first on that label. It was their first studio album in three years (since Rather Ripped), making it the band's longest delay between studio albums. The album peaked at #18 on the Billboard 200 and was the band's highest charting album of their career in the United States and highest charting album since 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, which reached #34. The album was released digitally, on CD, and as a double LP, in both a standard and a "Buy Early Get Now" (BEGN) edition.
The album so far has a score of 79 out of 100 from Metacritic based on "generally favorable reviews". An early review by Clash said "the album shows signs of life and heart-wrenching vitality that secures its makers’ position at the forefront of American rock music." In a "Critic's Choice" review for The New York Times, Ben Ratliff compared the album to two of their albums from the 1990s,Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves; he pointed out that the album demonstrates Kim Gordon's continued rise as a singer, saying she "sings all the best stuff" on The Eternal, particularly the album's last song, "Massage the History", a song he calls the "record's sleeper stunner". The addition of Mark Ibold in the studio was praised by Monday Field of Frank Booth Review, likening the album's basslines to "a 1AM, alcohol-soaked punch in the gut".
Other reviews are positive as well: musicOMH gave the album all five stars and said that it "acts as a fitting and timeless aide-memoire of everything this mighty band has ever achieved."Los Angeles Times also gave it all four stars and said, "The music remains ageless and weird, fueled on chaos and clarity, but these are songs, not sound experiments for their own sake."Chicago Tribune gave the album three-and-a-half stats out of four and said, "Back on an independent label after nearly two decades with a major, the post-punk quartet returns to its ‘80s foundation with an album that breaks little new ground, but sounds thrilling all the same. [...] It casts aside some of the band’s fondness for the warped digression and simply moves from one thrill ride to the next, rarely pausing for breath."The A.V. Club gave it a B+ and said that the songs "are more conventionally rock-oriented than any in Sonic Youth’s career, yet the album doesn’t really sound like a departure."
Under the Radar gave it eight stars out of ten and called it "the sound of a band at its most self-aware, tuggging gently at the boundaries of their trademark sound to gorgeous effect."No Ripcord also gave it eight stars out of ten and said the album was "certainly heavier, but it's tuneful and heavy at the same time."Q gave the album four stars out of five and said, "Refreshingly, nothing outstays its welcome, not even nine-minute closer 'Massage The History.'"Alternative Press also gave it four stars out of five and said of Sonic Youth, "They're still delivering more aural discovery and attitude than both their weary, uninspired colleagues and the legion of fumbling neophyte upstarts combined."The Guardian likewise gave the album four stars and said of it, "There is an excitable, almost naive quality to its visceral riffs and enthusiastic name-checks of artists, poets and countercultural figures."Now also gave it four stars and said, "The band’s put together one of their more accessible albums, full of immediate thrills instead of drawn-out weirdness."Billboard gave it a favorable review and called it "a rock group playing at the peak of their powers: assured but not ‘comfortable,’ and free with each other."The Boston Globe also gave it a favorable review and stated, "Ingredients from those progressive forays ensure that the new tunes sound fresh even as the album is marked with such Sonic signatures as artful contrasts and angular arrangements."Hartford Courant likewise gave it a favorable review and called it "Sonic Youth's most compelling album in years."
Paste gave the album a score of 7.8 out of ten and said that its songs "aren’t purely doom and gloom; they’re not tons of fun either, but hope and curiosity abound, even if they’re not easy to spot on first listen."Filter gave it a score of 72% and said, "All the things you love about Sonic Youth are here, just a little fewer and further between than you'd like."Sputnikmusic gave the album a score of three-and-a-half out of five and said it was "simply just another confirmation that Sonic Youth is one of the most essential---if not the most essential---indie collectives of the past thirty years."The Phoenix gave it two-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a fun, superficial tangent, disappointing in its regressiveness but enjoyable as long you don't examine it too closely."
Other reviews are very average: The Austin Chronicle gave it a score of three stars out of five and said, "The three-guitar interplay, moderated by bassist Mark Ibold and Steve Shelley on drums, is confident if briefly indulgent ('Walkin Blue'), but Sonic Youth reigns in those tendencies for the most part, making The Eternal its most straightforward album yet."Yahoo! Music UK gave the album six stars out of ten and said it was "well-built, yes, but almost too well built, many parts sounding like they've been lifted directly from SY's vast back catalogue and slotted into place, like a jigsaw that needed completing, rather than the sprawling documents of noise and confusion this band's name is built upon."Tiny Mix Tapes gave it three stars out of five and said the album was "accessible, listenable, and all the rest: another consistent album from the consistent rock band Sonic Youth."Slant Magazine also gave it three stars out of five and said of Sonic Youth: "Married since 1984, the couple has reached a level of easy rapport that makes their collaborations feel warmly alive. Hopefully the band's sound won't continue to settle into the same kind of comfortable informality."The Observer likewise gave it three stars out of five and said, "Still sounding like an evening in your company will encompass discussions of Yves Klein and Lindsay Lohan? Check, check, check. But still cool."