All Hands On The Bad One
Kill Rock Stars
By: Eric G.
Corin Tucker's earthshaking wail is impossible to fake. She sounds so honest and sincere, especially when she's angry, and anger is the best emotion for her voice because it makes the hair on your back stand on end. In Heaven's To Betsy she frantically spewed out her teenage angst, but since forming Sleater-Kinney she's gotten the beast under control, somewhat. Her voice can relate myriad emotions now, but it hasn't lost an ounce of its bite.
Sleater-Kinney's momentous breakthrough, Dig Me Out, focused on the band's anger and punk roots. The Hot Rock expanded the band's musical landscape, incorporating darker, more complex riffs into its bastion of power chords. All Hands On The Bad One sounds unabashedly happy compared to the aforementioned albums, embracing pop structure into its jarring assault. Success is a mixed bag. Sleater-Kinney has always been self-aware, but that awareness has practically turned into a fourth member.
Almost all of the songs put up defensive shields, and they're full of self-references. On an infinitely smaller scale, this is Sleater-Kinney's Tusk. "The Ballad Of A LadyMan"confronts the temptation to sell out: "They say I've gone too far with the image I've got/they know I'd make a mint with new plastic skin/and a hit on the radio." On "Male Model" Tucker complains about her band constantly being compared to its male counterparts: "Does he write my songs for me?/should I try to play just like him?/kick it out could you show me your riffs?/you always measure me by him."
Much in the vein of "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" off Call the Doctor, there a some silly, upbeat songs mixed in with the more challenging and sincere revelations. "You're No Rock N' Roll Fun" is as pop as Sleater-Kinney gets, but it still manages to feel sorry for itself: "Fill our Christmas socks with whiskey drinks and chocolate bars/and when the evening ends/we won't be thinking of you then/although the best man won't hang out with the girl band." Tucker can also be downright bitter about her role as the default "Riot Grrrl spokeswoman": "Bearer of the flag from the beginning/now who would have believed this riot grrl's a cynic/but they took our ideas to their marketing stars/and now I'm spending all my days at girlpower.com/trying to buy back a little piece of me" (“#1 Must Have").
Such insight and bare bones honesty is rare in today's pretentious bag of self-obsessed ambiguity. The amazing thing is that Sleater-Kinney turns all of this honesty into brilliantly crafted and catchy punk rock. "Was It A Lie?" is a thinly veiled reference to Princess Diana's fatal car crash. Tucker rails against the media and the public for lapping up the coverage: "You broadcast it in 50 states/you looped it on the internet/and a woman's life got cheaper that day…did it fill your head?/did it entertain?/will you feel alive at the end of it?" Sure, there are a few embarrassments like "Milkshake N' Honey", which honestly contains the line: "Visa, MasterCard, Discovered that I was spent", but Tucker invokes enough self-deprecating humor to make up for any bloopers: "took my heart my best jeans/and left me payin' the rent."
All Hands On The Bad One takes several listens to sink in. The Hot Rock had a very consistent mood, and the angular arpeggios all seemed cut from the same cloth. This new album covers more emotional and musical ground. Sleater-Kinney is turning into an amazing band and emphatically not on a 'novelty-act' level either. It's so boring to point out that they are girls playing punk rock- that's not what's unique. Sleater-Kinney stands out because it lays its heart out for you to stomp on with no regrets and no shame, and, most importantly, because the songs rock.