All Hands on the Bad One
[Kill Rock Stars]
By: Brent DiCrescenzo
I've been waiting anxiously in the foothills for Corin Tucker's voice to come down off the mountain. At night the villagers used to hear her baying at the moon. Alas, the impassioned Sleater-Kinney frontwoman has left her banshee goat of a wail up to pasture on the craggy cliffs. All Hands on the Bad One finds the Northwest power-trio at their most melodious, playful, sarcastic, and punchy-- both musically and lyrically. Occasionally the spirit of the goat god still springs from Tucker's belly, but these screams follow baiting pop harmonies. Besides, when Rolling Stone uses the words "brilliant" and "fury" in the latest glowing Britney Spears review, Corin's outbursts feel positively baptismal.
Sleater-Kinney and Fugazi reside alone in the top echelon of American punk rock. They make darling twins. Both bands continue to grow in talent, despite the jaded whines of old schoolers. Both feature dueling guitars that bobble complex, inventive lines like ping-pong paddles. (And Sleater-Kinney don't even need a bassist to lock the groove.) Both can raise the hair on the back of your neck, the ass out your seat, and the volume on your stereo. Most importantly, both hold a mirror up to the face of themselves, their scene, and society in general. You better believe that "And for all the ladies out there I wish/ We could write more than the next/ Marketing bid/ Culture is what we make it/ Now is the time to invent!" is the "We owe you nothing/ You have no control!" of 2000. Now that the smoke has blown away after the media exploitation of the riot grrl scene, the true believers remain behind, not working PR for emo bands.
But preaching has its limits. After all, a band can't write a song called "You're No Rock n' Roll Fun," and load it with lyrics such as, "Like a piece of art/ That no one can touch/ Your head is always up/ In the clouds/ Writing your songs/ Won't you ever come down," without actually having some fun. The album opens with the proposition of "Eye cream and thigh cream/ How 'bout a get high cream" before shouting "but I gotta rock!" and bursting into oo-waahs and handclaps. "Milkshake n' Honey" spits wit at expatriates in Paris as Corin rolls her eyes at the type of denizens in The Sun Also Rises. Acting the roll of the insolent daughter, Tucker exclaims, "Daddy says I got my mama's mouth/ I'm all about a forked tongue and a dirty house."
But this isn't poetry! More than ever, S-K put four on the floor and hammer away on infectious riffs. A brash return to vigor after the mellower The Hot Rock, All Hands will win over new ears who previously found the sound too sky high, loose, and angular. Like a David Mamet character rewrite over a Joel Schumacher script, Corin reveals greater character depth than ever before. All Hands on the Bad One finds Sleater-Kinney at their most fist-pumping (on the title track), lovely ("Leave You Behind"), longing ("The Swimmer"), and bratty ("The Professional"). Janet Weiss hammers harder, Carrie Brownstein smothers with perfect harmonies while digging deeper on the E string, and Corin grabs your aorta and strokes. When Sleater-Kinney, the band with the busiest guitar lines and boldest voice, turn in turn in their best effort yet, it demands your attention.