Review Summary: Three girls take on the post 9/11 world, exposing the backwardness of it while reminding us of our humanity. In one of the rock albums of the decade, Sleater-Kinney rocks not only our ears, but our brains as well.
Sleater-Kinney’s One Beat is a testament to the power of music, specifically rock music. In a time where fear triumphs over common sense, One Beat is a swift form of musical sanity. Three women who knew something had to be said about the current state of affairs exuberantly shout (literally) their insights, concerns and condemnations. These ladies have produced an album which is so intelligent, so aware and so truthful that it can’t be ignored. Its unapologetically political lyrics paired with the powerful do it yourself-take-no-prisoners rock and roll explodes not only in your ears but in your brain. One Beat is not only Sleater-Kinney’s defining moment but, also a generation’s. A generation engulfed in war, corruption, lies, and fear has an album which doesn’t offer any easy answers or solutions, but it gives something more important and realistic: hope.
Janet Weiss opens the album up on the title track with haunting bizarre machine-like drums. It’s not long until Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker kick in, trading vocals back and forth like an angry two-headed beast. It doesn’t take long to realize that their chiding rampant amoral technocrats who create unbelievable destructive weapons. These women mean business. The condemnations continue throughout the album. On “Combat Rock” they explore the tyrannical jingoism in America, asking “Since when is skepticism un-American?” and exploring the police state nature of post 9/11 America, “Dissent's not treason but they talk like it's the same”. “And if you're scared by what you're left with destroying the answer that you've found” is yet another bold statement on “The Remainder”, maybe even possibly hinting at prior knowledge by the government about the events of 9/11. These women prove themselves fearless on these tracks. Yet, on others, they’re just the opposite.
“Far Away” probably defines many mental states of Americans during 9/11. Tucker’s vocals are engulfed with distraught fear - for her family, her people, and her freedom. Likewise on “Sympathy” Tucker is praying to God, for someone she loves. The album has a handful of songs like this, connecting us back to humanity. It is the dichotomy of these tracks (“Oh”, “Hollywood Ending”) combined with the overtly political ones which help us remind ourselves of our humanity. That is where the album really shines. It represents the backwards time that we live in, but, also the fact that we’re all human beings who have the power to live and change. This idea is fully represented on the best track on the album, “Step Aside”. “Step Aside” asks us to “Shake our tail for peace and love” and that’s exactly what song will have you doing. Losing our apathy, taking notice to the wrongs in the world, and yet, enjoying life.
Sleater-Kinney has also widened their sound on this album. On “Step Aside” there is an impeccably placed horn section. Keyboards and synthesizers are also wisely enlisted on a few tracks. They’ve evolved from their stripped-down Punk Rock for a fuller, lusher sound which compliments the album greatly. Brownstein delivers huge career riffs on “Oh”, “Combat Rock”, and on “Light Rail Coyote” she delves in Zeppelin-esque territory, a nice precursor to “The Woods”.
Everything Sleater-Kinney does on this album comes together perfectly. They’ve given us a beautiful, meaningful romp of an album. It is also very notable that One Beat was released on August 20, 2002, less than a year after the events of September 11th. Very few albums were addressing these issues so surely at this time. Making One Beat even that more remarkable of an album.
“These times are troubled these times are rough, there's more to come but you can't give up”
That helps me sleep at night.