Review Summary: Grrrls rule!Riot Grrrl
as a movement was powerful. It stood as a rejection to the male-dominated, masculine nature of punk rock at the time, staking claims that 'girls can do it too'. A notion which, hopefully, isn't too uncomprehend-able to any readers here, but one which was necessary as a building block for all female-led punk acts for years to come. The movement emerged in the early 1990s through zine magazines and energetic punk music and it quickly picked up steam because of this. At the back bone of the movement, there was a manifesto written by the all-female Riot Grrrl
laureates Bikini Kill
. In this manifesto, the band called for a change to gender roles and expectations, writing that 'we don't want to assimilate to someone else's (boy) standards of what is or isn't' and that sentiment, more than any other, provides an understanding as to why the movement was important: It provided a means for female punk acts to finally achieve wider appreciation from a community of similarly inspired people, in a medium which had previously labelled them as 'less competent'. It was a near-flawless plan which birthed tons of artists and inspiration and yet, it still felt as if there was a piece missing from the puzzle. Sure, Bikini Kill
and contemporaries released music interesting enough to still hold some form of merit today, however, it felt as if they weren't truly breaking new ground in any form of sonic or artistic level. The manifesto and movement were well thought out; they had the message and crafted the music, but there was a need for an artistic classic in the mix, one which no one could deny the brilliance of... can someone call a doctor"
Up steps Sleater-Kinney
, who have since become one of the most interesting bands of the past 30 years; a band with as much a pop edge as a punk one. Chronologically, they certainly arrived towards the end of the initial Riot Grrrl
buzz, but their message was as clear and powerful as the manifesto itself. Call the Doctor
was the feminist masterpiece which the movement was begging for. I do feel cautious labelling Sleater-Kinney
as 'simply' a feminist punk band, as they are so much more than that - they have proved to be expert artists who have consistently molded their own sound successfully over the years. I only raise that tag here because Call the Doctor
, more than any other of their albums, is their politically-centered Riot Grrrl
work of art which aimed to make a change. From the very first destructive guitar note of the erupting opener they make their intentions known. In this title track, they show instantaneously that they can rock harder than even the most praised punk acts through the years. Furthermore, artistically they show their willingness to experiment with a variety of fresh new sounds and ideas which have since become staples of the band, such as the half-melodic, half-pounding dual vocal work of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker.
Sonically, it's no secret that Sleater-Kinney
are experts at crafting punk with a pop edge. Every rhythm here is infectiously catchy but simultaneously packs a heavy, punk-oriented punch. The dual guitar work of Tucker and Brownstein and the manic drums of MacFarlane work incredibly well to form a piercing, passionate atmosphere throughout the album. The lack of bass furthers this manic chaos as it allows all the members the room to breathe wherever they decide too, to meander in any direction which they choose. Sleater-Kinney
are masters at finding melody in destruction. Whenever it feels like the album is destined to crash upon the listener, they instead gently catch us within a joyously catchy cloud. Adjacent to every explosive battle between the angular, dueling guitars there is a blueprint to pop-perfection, such as on the brilliant 'Stay Where You Are' where the verses pounce, but the chorus drifts. It must be said that some of the songs on Call the Doctor
fail to distinguish themselves entirely from the pack, such as the post-punk inspired Little Mouth, the slow burning Heart Attack and the inconspicuous 'Taste Test', but it just so happens that the pack here is so impressive that it hardly feels like a fair criticism.
This album's true brilliance lies within the lyrics. Call the Doctor
is a triumph in feminist writing. Each and every lyric is so intensely intended. As I discussed earlier, the primary motif behind Call the Doctor
is to draw attention to the absurd notion of fixed gender roles in society, which is the central theme of the majority of songs here. Often this is explored through compelling metaphors and comparisons from different perspectives, such as on aforementioned 'Stay Where You Are' where Carrie sings 'stuffed in the corner, little girl lost. I claw and I scratch and I beg and I scream, I just need you to save me this time' which plays on the idea of women as mysterious 'others' in need of male guidance and safety. Further, Sleater-Kinney
draw attention to this patronizing ideology on 'Anonymous' where Corin sings 'feel safe inside, inside these well drawn lines; boyfriend, a car, a job, my white girl life' where the repetition of 'inside' emphasizes the domesticated experience of how women are expected to live and behave in a patriarchal society. You can draw direct parallels between these 'well drawn lines' and the masculine nature of the Punk scene which the band emerged from, which is discussed more directly in the roaring 'I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone'. It isn't just the words themselves that makes the lyricism here so powerful, a lot of it comes from the ability of both vocalists to pour a mass of absolute emotion and conviction into every single line. It's as-if the motivation behind each word they belt out is as true to the original intention of Punk in its emergence, more so than any other 90s act.
Call the Doctor
provided a necessary stepping stone for both Sleater-Kinney
and the Riot Grrrl
movement, inspiring a storm of female artists to form bands to make a change. I'd personally argue that it isn't their most creative album, no that comes next. What this album is though is a hard-hitting collection of songs from a group of newcomers, which even the most distinguished punk acts could've only dreamed to make. Sleater-Kinney
add melody to punk music more flawlessly than any other group I've had the pleasure of listening too and lyrically they've crafted an anthology of brilliant poetry which continues to sticks with me, even when I'm not listening to the album. Thus, the puzzle was complete.