Sleater-Kinney’s Finest Hour

Sleater-Kinney disbanded or went on indefinite hiatus or whatever in 2006, after releasing and touring in support of The Woods, one of the most ferocious and indisputably badass rock albums of the last fifteen (or more) years.  Though it should go without saying that they were one of the greatest bands to emerge from the fertile northwest music scene, they never got the press that your Nirvanas, Pearl Jams, and Soundgardens did, despite the fact that these three women could hold their own with any of those bands any day of the week. In fact, in an album-to-album comparison, I would have to say that Sleater-Kinney has wound up my favorite. Combining razor sharp guitars and vocals from Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker with the thunderous (and criminally underrated) drumming of Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinneys music transcended both the Riot Grrrl and grunge movements while holding onto the best bits of both. In case you’ve never listened to them or if you’ve only heard The Woods, I have compiled a list of their best hour of music below. Turn it up!

Early Sleater-Kinney stuff is pretty raw, but well worth hearing, especially “A Real Man” from their self-titled debut. When Corin Tucker screams, “I don’t wanna join your club,” you can hear Kathleen Hanna’s influence loud and clear. Tucker’s copped to imitating Hanna when she started singing and I’m not gonna fault her for it; as vocal inspiration goes, Kathleen Hanna is a pretty badass model. The song itself is pretty straightforward and aggressive mockery of dudes who think their cocks are something that all women (or any women) covet.

As Sleater-Kinney continued to grow as a band, I think their greatest asset became the interplay of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s voices. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” is a fine early example of that, with Brownstein singing the verses (and supplying yips and yells during the chorus) and Tucker howling the chorus about a couple of male rock heroes – the titular Mr. Ramone and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” is also indicative of a tremendous pop sensibility that informed a lot of Sleater-Kinney’s best music.

As Zac mentioned the other day, the question of what it’s like to be a girl in a band is fucking stupid, but it’s one that’s dogged every great female band ever, along with tired comparisons to male rock stars. Sleater-Kinney addressed this on “Male Model,” from 2000’s All Hands On the Bad One. “Male Model” isn’t just an encouraging anthem for aspiring girl rockers everywhere, it’s a warning shot to the cavemen who think that men have some larger claim to rock ‘n’ roll than women do.

“You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun” treads similar thematic ground to “Male Model” (“the best man/ won’t hang out with the girl band!”) but is a little more of a straightforward pop song, with one of the best melodies Sleater-Kinney ever played. Prepare to have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

“One More Hour” is one of my favorite Sleater-Kinney songs and – according to the not always reliable internet – the Dig Me Out tune is about the dissolution of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s romance. Whether or not that’s true is immaterial to the fact that the song is a devastating break-up song; the way Tucker sings, “Oh, you’ve got the darkest eyes” makes me really happy that I don’t need breakup songs anymore.

If I were feeling lazy, I could’ve made this whole post about The Woods, which is my favorite Sleater-Kinney album (I love them all a great deal, but The Woods… I mean… just listen to it). It’s hard for me to pick a favorite song from that record, but for today, let’s go with “Entertain”, which I think is probably Carrie Brownstein’s greatest vocal performance. The song opens with Weiss pounding the shit out of her drums and then Brownstein starts to snarl and when she asks, “Where’s the ‘fuck you’?,” she’s actually delivering a healthy dose of it herself. When you add in Tucker’s vocals on the chorus, you’ve got one of the best rock songs recorded by anyone in the last… oh fuck it, whenever.

Speaking of awesome rock songs, “Words and Guitar” is certainly one of those. I know I’ve mentioned this before but this song embodies the primal spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and makes me want to rock out until I break myself.

Sticking with Dig Me Out (which is probably destined for a Great Fucking Albums write-up soon) for a second, “Little Babies” is a mid-1990s update to the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” and, like “Words and Guitar,” this song makes me involuntarily jump around and grin like a fool, even if I’m seat-belted into my car on the freeway.

What’s not to love about “Combat Rock” from One Beat? It’s named after a Clash album and it’s a pretty vigorous assault not just on the invasion of Iraq itself but also the national mindset that allowed it to happen – “If you hate this time/ Remember we are the time!”

“The Size of Our Love” is a ballad about death but it’s delivered in a lovely package of late ’90s Northwest grunge. The song features a great Brownstein vocal and it is particularly striking for anyone who’s ever spent time in a hospital waiting for a loved one to live or die. Every time I hear this song, I get a little fucked up by the memories it brings to mind but I think the best songs should do that to you.

One Beat’s closer, “Sympathy” is a bluesy number that is also about death and how its imminence (in this case, I think Corin Tucker is singing about a child dying) can force even the most irreligious of us to fold our hands. The vocals on this track are pure blues in a way that probably every white person who sings the blues wants to sing them.

Who wants to keep talking about death? Check out “Jumpers” from The Woods. It follows the last day or so of a person who has decided to take a leap off of the Golden Gate Bridge (there was a documentary about this phenomenon about a year ago, but I don’t have the heart to watch it). I just typed that sentence and got so depressed that I had to stop and figure out how to proceed. Here’s the thing: “Jumpers” does – I think – a pretty good job of getting inside the head of someone who decides to end their life and Brownstein & Tucker sing it like they really want to understand but just can’t. That sounds about right to me.

How do we cheer up now? How about another track from The Woods? It’s a love song. Well, okay, it’s more like a song about ferocious sex. Of course I’m talking about “Let’s Call It Love,” the eleven-minute epic in which Corin Tucker threatens, “You better be my bloody match.” The guitar on this song alone proves that Carrie Brownstein belongs in any serious discussion of badass current guitar players – her six-string snarls, smolders, and soars over the back end of the tune and Weiss’s drums throb and pound every measure into submission.

Having immersed myself in Sleater-Kinney’s entire canon the last few days, I have discovered, to my undying delight, that they were frequently preoccupied with fire. On Call the Doctor‘s “Stay Where You Are,” Carrie Brownstein sings about a girl who is “bad because she wants to set things on fire” and the fire on “Burn, Don’t Freeze!” from The Hot Rock was lit by an amorous young woman who admits that “arson is no way to make a love burn brighter.” Both tunes illustrate the wisdom of having to vocalists as talented as Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker in your band.

I’m only going to include one more song from The Woods and it’s another great Brownstein vocal performance: “Modern Girl,” if I had my way, would be the theme song for Keeping Up with the Kardashians (did I misspell their last name? I don’t care). Just listen to it, you’ll get where I’m going with this.

“Let’s Call It Love” probably has my favorite guitar part of any Sleater-Kinney tune, but I love the sound of Tucker and Brownstein’s guitars on the (sadly) Weiss-less “Buy Her Candy,” a pretty little ditty about a heroine of whom “no can say, ‘she is mine.'”

If I was compiling more than an hour’s worth of music, I could probably list a ton more Sleater-Kinney songs that are worth your time but I’m gonna wrap things up with “One Song for You” from The Hot Rock. I like the angular guitar lines and the vocal melodies and – bonus – there’s yet another mention of fire.

So last week Zac told you to get your teenage dude friends into Le Tigre’s debut as a gateway drug to bands like Sleater-Kinney and here I am giving you a perfect hour of Sleater-Kinney songs to help them on their way. What can I say? We here at Bollocks! know about awesome fucking music and we’re all too happy to tell you about it. You’re welcome.

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3 thoughts on “Sleater-Kinney’s Finest Hour

  1. Pingback: The Bollocks! Summer of Badass Women: Bikini Kill « Bollocks!

  2. If Sleater-Kinney was a dude they’d be an average band. Above average chick bands get overrated all the time.

  3. #1. Go fuck yourself.

    #2. If they were dudes, they’d be like Ted Leo & The Pharmacists or The Thermals or Mission of Burma or some other TOTALLY AWESOME UNDERRATED BAND.

    #3. Seriously, fuck you. Jesus, do you spend a lot of time thinking of the stupidest fucking thing you could possibly say, or does it just roll out of you, unabated by any reason or shame?

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