by Courtney Barbour for Woove
Sleater-Kinney become the media darlings they are today? Five records on
indie labels (Chainsaw and KRS), exhaustive tours covering the US, Canada,
Europe, and even Australia, and their insistence upon playing their music
their way is what makes Sleater-Kinney the undisputed queens of rock and
The women in Sleater-Kinney are not amateur musicians. Their roots may be in the riot girl movement of the early nineties, but these three fabulous women, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, play rock with the best of the boys club that characterizes the rock and roll establishment.
Their first record, cut in Australia in the summer of 1995, was influenced by bands like Bikini Kill, but Sleater-Kinney has had a flavor of their own from the beginning. Tucker's voice is possibly the most unique and piercing element of their sound. Trained operatically, Tucker's voice has developed from the whiny, shyness of her former band, Heavens to Betsy, to the super-intense organ that displays itself on the band's current record All Hands on the Bad One.
On their self-titled debut, Sleater-Kinney took the "less is more approach" and followed a minimalist approach, toning down the drums and keeping the concentration on the vocal talents of Tucker and Brownstein. Tucker's voice bounces from sing-speaking to the operatic force that drives the record on. Brownstein's songs, with the exception of the powerful "Last Song," are understated, yet heart-wrenching. The record is a punk rock diamond in the rough, fusing punk aggression with radical feminism, and establishing the band as a force with which to be reckoned.
The stamina and emotional purging of their self-titled debut continues on their second record Call the Doctor. The record opens with the title track swerving dangerously from one extreme to the other and both women singing different lines over ominous guitar riffs. Tucker and Brownstein fuse the songs on this record with their signature intertwining melodies and harmonies that meander but pack a punch. At times, it seems as though they are unaware of each other, both singing parts that are at once conflicting and complementary. Tucker's voice sounds more developed on this record, her voice seems more within her control, and this is complemented by the intense guitars and drums that characterize this record's feel. Brownstein's voice is louder than it was on the first record. Her vocals are blunt and direct, making Tucker's backing vocals sound almost dreamlike in comparison.
The highlight of this record is the rock and roll anthem "I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone" in which Tucker and Brownstein hail the Ramones frontman as their schoolgirl idol and proclaim their own talents as would-be rock stars. "I'm the queen of rock and roll," Tucker heralds in her attempt to break open the sex barriers of the profession. After listening to this record, there should be no doubt about her statement of royalty.
Dig Me Out, the band's third record, poised them as the new superstars of the underground. The record was widely covered by mainstream music magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone, as well as the underground press. The band was then courted by major labels, which they turned down at their insistence on maintaining control and creative freedom over their music.
The record opens with the title track, which crashes around the listener with the addition of new drummer Janet Weiss. Her drumming is precise and provides just what the band had been missing. That said, the record forges on with hard rocking tunes that pound out Sleater-Kinney's niche in the vast punk wasteland of male domination. In particular, "Words and Guitar" is a song about the impact and effect that music can have on a listener or musician. The song exhibits their talent as Tucker and Brownstein once again weave vocals in and out of each other's melodies. The rest of the songs on the record serve to build an empire of songs for which the band has become acclaimed.
Refusing to sign with a major label, Sleater-Kinney's fourth record The Hot Rock is focused more on musicianship than any of their former records. Slowing down, and skimping on the aggressive approach taken on their previous records, the result is a record that flows together with intense moments of evoking the Odyssey in the song "the End of You," which compares the lure of stardom to the hypnotic singing harpies in Homer's famous epic. There are also calm, sad moments, like when Brownstein sings about a friend who is dying from cancer in "the Size of Our Love." Above all, The Hot Rock is concerned with the effect technology has taken on a world less influenced by face to face interactions, as noted in the powerful, critical song "God is a Number." While not a disappointment, many fans shunned this record for its lack of aggression and the amount of media attention the band received following their third record.
Their most recent record All Hands on the Bad One, is not to be doubted. Bouncing back from the toned down ambiance of The Hot Rock, Sleater-Kinney hammers out an amazing forty-minute record that leaves the listener breathless. The songs thrash with anger, but also glimmer with 60's-influenced guitar sounds and percussion. The album takes on the boy rock establishment with "You're no Rock and Roll Fun," and condemns the rapes at Woodstock and the practice of target marketing with "#1 Must Have," which is arguably the best track.
Still resisting the mainstream, Sleater-Kinney's most recent record is a testament to why women are vital and important to the profession of music. Innovative and impressive, the women of Sleater-Kinney have traveled from obscurity to one of the much hyped "post riot grrl" acts of the millennium. Their sound, politics and lyrics are neither compromised nor diluted in the most "mainstream" of all their records. In fact, their strength lies in the fact that they are an extremely talented band who refuse to compromise their lyrics or politics for the sake of mainstream success. "I could be demure/like girls who are soft for/boys who are fearful/of getting an earful/but I gotta rock/I'd rather be a Ladyman," Tucker sings in "Ballad of a Ladyman."
These ladies are not going to cease or defer to their male peers in order to get their message to music fans. Through the short five years that Sleater-Kinney has existed, they have exhibited their talents and garnered media attention that is more than deserved. Their music has evolved to a full, all-encompassing sound for which they are renowned, and although they do not plan on making a record in the year 2001, rest assured, Sleater-Kinney is not going to stop making music that pierces ears and souls.