Great Fucking Albums #19: The Woods

You don’t have to take a very broad survey of rock ‘n’ roll history to get the creeping feeling that rock ‘n’ roll has been a bit of a boys’ club for much of its existence. Elvis Presley was crowned the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (black people apparently weren’t allowed to vote in the South at that time. If they were, I’m pretty sure Leadbelly or Robert Johnson would’ve taken the crown) but there wasn’t ever a queen (Presley dated the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. Before you ask, no, Prince was not their son. As far as I know. I’ve never really done well with monarchies). There have been some amazing female rockers, but many of them don’t get the credit they deserve. Last I checked, no one’s touting Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, or the Slits as Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame candidates (I mean yeah, Patti Smith got in, which proves that there’s hope; the right people win sometimes, albeit rarely). Even the Seattle scene of the 1990s, which was supposed to represent some Bold New Direction for rock, didn’t really elevate a lot of women when it was busy making Eddie Vedder a star and pushing the once-great Chris Cornell toward the increasingly steep downward spiral his career has taken of late (although, to Vedder and Pearl Jam’s credit, they did take Sleater-Kinney on tour a few times in the 90s, which is pretty badass).

The early 2000s have been a little better and, as a creature of the internet, I’d like to think the internet has been helpful in that. Bands like the Screaming Females and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are making some of the best rock music out there and both bands are fronted by exceedingly powerful women. But I choose to believe that a more powerful force has shaken the foundation of the rock ‘n’ roll boys’ club, and that force came back in 2005 in the form of a ten-song assault called The Woods by Sleater-Kinney.

The Woods ended up being Sleater-Kinney’s last album (technically, the band is on “indefinite hiatus,” which sounds far too much like “broken up” for my liking) and I’m of two minds about that fact. On the one hand, it sucks that they stopped making music together after recording the best rock album of 2005 (by a long shot), but on the other hand, they went out at the height of their powers. The Woods is intense, loud, obnoxious, alienating, and probably among the top five rock albums of the last ten years. And I know it’s meaningless to call an album one of the best rock albums of the 21st century when it’s only 2011, but your great grandkids, if they have any fucking taste, will agree with me on that point in 2099 (you and I probably won’t be around then, so you won’t have to hear me say, “I told you so.” Unless there really is some kind of afterlife, in which case I will make a point of finding you on January 1st, 2099 and saying, “See? I told you so. Your great grandkids are smarter than you”).

One of the most fantastic things about all the noise on The Woods is that it was made by three women: Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein, and Corin Tucker made enough racket for five people and packed it like gunpowder into every measure of every song. Brownstein plays the guitar like she’s trying to fight her way through a sea of zombie College Republicans and Corin Tucker’s voice… well, let’s not kid ourselves. From “The Fox” right through “Night Light”, Tucker’s voice is cranked up to 11. I never saw a review of The Woods that said, “Corin Tucker’s vocal performance is fucking epic,” but that’s what it is (Brownstein’s vocal contributions are also excellent, but Tucker’s voice on this album is like the recurring thunder crack in Finnegans Wake – it is disruptive in the very best way). And then we have Janet Weiss, beating the living piss out of the drums on every track. Weiss is criminally underrated as a drummer, but she makes a very compelling case for herself on The Woods. Though “loud” is a good one word description of the album, it has a lot of dynamic playing on it – again, Sleater-Kinney were at their best here and their best could kick the shit out of pretty much every dude-fronted rock band you hear on the radio today.

Which brings me to “Entertain”, a zeitgeist-throttling anthem (well, it is to me) which asks the question I’m always asking about music these days: “Where’s the ‘fuck you’?” Apparently, Sleater-Kinney looked around when they were writing The Woods and saw a lot of magazine-cover posing and not much meaning. So they wrote a five-minute ditty that calls out pretty much everyone who makes or listens to music and demands better of them. The song articulates, both lyrically (“Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore” and “make it sweet and syrupy with rhyme”) and with the primal awesomeness of its music, what could basically be a mission statement for Bollocks!. You are free to consider “Entertain” the unofficial theme song of this blog if you wish.

As big a part as Sleater-Kinney played in the northwest riot grrrl scene (see, this is why I love the northwest and long to return to its damp, evergreen bosom. I live in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Where Valley girls come from. Fucking riot grrrls, who do not have the time to fool around with trifling things like vowels, come from the northwest), the ultimate triumph of The Woods is not just that it stands as an excellent artifact of that movement (both Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein were in other bands within that scene before starting Sleater-Kinney together) but that it transcends the niche from which it emerged. Like London Calling some twenty-odd years before it, The Woods dabbles in punk, pop, and rock (“Let’s Call It Love” is a punk song that is either fucking a Jimi Hendrix song or fighting it. Maybe a little of both) and is really best described as a “Super Kickass Record” (and if you’ve read Bollocks! at all, you know I don’t hand out favorable comparisons to London Calling lightly). If your local music store had a “Super Kickass” section, I should think it perfectly reasonable for that section to prominently display The Woods (and, not to sell others short, pretty much every record on my list of Great Fucking Albums) on a stand with a sign that says, “If you don’t own this album, your life rocks significantly less than it could.”

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2 thoughts on “Great Fucking Albums #19: The Woods

  1. Pingback: Great Fucking Albums #27: Le Tigre (Self-Titled) « Bollocks!

  2. Pingback: Sleater-Kinney’s Finest Hour « Bollocks!

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