Review Summary: Sleater-Kinney sounding...comfortable?
This one is another "how the hell did this not have a review"" for me. But, alas:
So, this album is like "One Beat"; kinda that weird transitional period between the straightforward post-punk of 90s SK and the long, drawn out masterpiece that is "The Woods." So, for that reason, its often overlooked. But it shouldn't be, as it contains some of their best work. Case in point, opener "The Ballad of a Ladyman", which, by the way, is that Sleater-Kinney sounding comfortable" Dare I say, relaxed" On an album opener" Yeah, but be grateful; the hooks, the melodies, the rhythms are as strong as ever.
And don't fret, because the moderate tempo doesn't last long. "Ironclad", presumably a song about a young fighter failing at his/her career, blasts off right away. The key highlight of this album, for once, is not the riffs, but rather Janet Weiss' drumming; staying introspective and intense at the same time, keeping the rhythm driving and keeping the rhythms complex, but never overexerting herself, she's the real driving force behind this album and all of its successful songs. And when I say all of them, I mean all of them, because they're all great.
"All Hands on the Bad One" comes next, further foray into their development of sprawled-out song structure and pop songcraft. But really, the rhythms have never been tighter, the hooks have never been tighter, and the harmonies! There's harmonies, in like, every song! On a Sleater-Kinney album! Imagine telling a fan in 1996 that (well, imagine telling a fan in 2013 that they'd reunite). Anyway, the repeating chorus of "all hands on the bad oneee" will stay in your head for awhile, as it should. The way these jagged rhythms lineup is fantastic coupled with their 80s new wave and 50s rock n' roll influence-the band is no longer taking late 80s cues from the likes of Sonic Youth and Fugazi, they have their own sound at this point, and they own it.
"You're No Rock and Roll Fun", possibly Sleater-Kinney's closest thing to a pop song is a great example of this. "You're no rock and roll fun, like a party that's over, before it's begun" Corin Tucker sneers, her famed irony intact, and man does that hook rule the song right off the bat. Carrie Brownstein's really putting in work here, placing awesome little guitar fills in every line. Her tone has never sounded better either, and the clarity of every riff is mesmerizing. The band doesn't kick it into overdrive every 5 seconds anymore, and for good reason. The show of restraint shows another side of Sleater-Kinney, a musically aware one that uses its energy in phases for maximum effect.
And don't worry, the aggression's still here. The 1-2 punch of "#1 Must Have" and "The Professional" absolutely slays, and Carrie Brownstein's raining title of Punk Rock Riff Queen is kept without question. Things get most interesting though, with cuts like "Was it a Lie"" and the sarcastically tender "Leave You Behind", the band really showing their early '80s influences here. It's a great thing they've accepted that they have a knack for great melodies and really let it shine through here-every bubbly chord flows through, so damn smoothly above those harmonies. But the grit is still there. And that combination is the key to success on this album. Sour and sweet, hard and soft, warm and cold. This album is a contradiction of sorts. I really love when Sleater-Kinney can't make up their mind.