Remember the 90s? Remember the alternafication of America? A lot of people started waking up to the fact that women sort of, well, rock. Of course, this was news mostly to meatheads because Aretha, Patti Smith, the Supremes, Ms. Jett, the Go-Go’s, et al were and are proof positive that the ladies have always crushed it.
There were a lot of riot grrls in the early-mid 90s, but for better or worse, whether it is an accurate assessment or not, Sleater-Kinney ended up being the standard bearer. Their trebly brand of Gang of Four as played by feminist rock & rollers inspired fans, critics, ladies, men, domesticated animals, and probably (hopefully) aliens listening to radio signals on the other side of the galaxy.
As this is a review of their soon to be released album, No Cities To Love, I will refrain from all easy references to Portlandia and National Public Radio; the things proto-overachiever, Carrie Brownstein, has been chopping away at in the time since The Woods in 2005.
No Cities To Love, er, has dropped in U.S., and you can stream it now on National Public Radio’s “First Listen” (whoops). How good is it? People seem to love it, and so do I. It is Carrie Brownstein’s best work since the “Battlestar Galactica” bit on Portlandia (DAMMIT!)
Seriously, though. This is super duper funny.
Joking aside, Cities is great album. I’ve heard people breathlessly call it “Their best ever!”, and I immediately bristle because that is an easy position to take when a beloved band comes back from the wilderness and releases a solid album.
I like all of S-K’s releases a ton, but honestly, I skip tunes on just about every one of them. I have listened to Cities a couple of times, and guess what. No skipping. Interesting.
Overall, the guitar interplay that The Woods seemed intent on killing off is back; greasier, and maybe even a little sleazy, but back. The morse-code guitar work is there, but it slips and slurs around in ways that are new and exciting.
One complaint that was lobbed at Woods was that it sounded “classic rock” and had “riffs”. Nonsense. Listen to “The Fox”. That shit sounds like a murder set to music; not Foreigner. On Cities, though, they are truly embracing their inner Foghat on tracks like “Surface Envy” and the title track. This is not a complaint or a criticism. Hell, if we aren’t careful, we might start having a good time.
“Fangless” sounds like a morning shift change at a seedy casino from the perspective of those ending their overnight at the baccarat table.
“New Wave” is S-K’s 2015 mission statement. They may not have intended it, but I am calling it. It is totally aggressive, catchy, and is that a bass I hear? Badass. 10/10.
“Bury Our Friends” oddly sounds like the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up”, and I think I agree with NPR that there is a bit of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in the dark closer “Fade”.
S-K even pull off a successful ultra ballad on the majestic “Hey Darling”. No small accomplishment, it is the ballads I tend to skip on the other albums.
Janet Weiss, Corin Tucker, and the aforementioned Carrie Brownstein had something to say musically & lyrically. In 2015, we get to hear it; live, in fact. S-K may have No Cities To Love, but according to their tourpage, a ton of cities love S-K (what’s your problem, Boise?). Catch them in February with LIZZO opening the proceedings.
This is the best of what a reunion can be because it doesn’t feel “special” in a saccharine way. It sounds like a hell of a noise being made by three people who know how to bring it, and who have no intention of slowing down.
Maybe it is their best (so far).
NewsWhistle music contributor Chad Werner is “ahead of the curve, behind the times.” You can contact this rock n’ roll sphinx at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Courtesy of Sleater-Kinney.com