There’s a rolling dialogue (and by dialogue, it’s little more than two lines) between myself and a friend, concerning who holds the title of ‘the best band in the world’. From the viewpoint of your correspondent, it’s The Hold Steady: east coast garage rockers, singing songs of lost love, over indulgence and redemption in the shadow of various urban landscapes (“She said there’s gonna come a time when I’m gonna have to go with whoever’s gonna get me the highest…”). For this friend of mine, it’s a trio of chicks from the other coast – Sleater-Kinney, Pacific Northwest riot grrrl indie rock favourites hatched from the later punk scene around Washington state in the early ’90s.
If someone, such as he is, with such solid foundations as a music appreciator and enthusiast, could wax as lyrical about a band, I was going to get in and figure it out for myself. I listened to their self-titled 1995 debut, then 2002’s One Beat, and its predecessor, All Hands on the Bad One. I had no frame of reference for riot grrrl as a concept, or the musical milieu.
And try as I might have done, I couldn’t crack it.
It was a case of wanting to like it more than I was being (by my own internal beats, prejudices, ebbs and flows) allowed to like it. Music’s funny like that, there is nothing more personal and subjective in this world, short of food tasting. In an email missive, I let him know that I gave S-K a red hot go, but it simply wasn’t speaking to me. I also made mention that this sounded like the kind of music Helen Razer used to wax poetic about when she did breakfasts with Mikey Robbins on Triple J back in the mid ’90s.
He found this comment “…insulting”.
An absence from recording and touring of nigh-on a decade can be dispiriting, I’m sure, for a hard core fan. It was brought to my attention that one of the two stars of the superb and brilliantly off-brand weird sketch comedy show Portlandia was guitarist-vocalist Carrie Brownstein. My interest in her work is piqued by this. I try the debut album of her off-shoot band Wild Flag, and again, it wasn’t hitting my high notes.
It wasn’t a question of me not liking it, or not seeing its value; I just didn’t *get* it.
But the new album – the band’s first since reforming after a decade-long absence – No Cities to Love, it’s an awakening. An ice-cold cup of black coffee thrown right in your face at the crack of dawn, bursting with energy and ferocity. ‘Price Tag’, ‘A New Wave’ (and I’ll run a mile to watch this Bob’s Burgers-fuelled music video) stand out, but few tracks on this album don’t. It’s a ball-tearer.
I can’t do it justice. I’ll leave that to TIM LEGGOE: “All I can offer on the new Sleater-Kinney album, is that like every other Sleater-Kinney album, it is different to every other Sleater-Kinney album. They haven’t come back and rehashed their old albums, or done a “Let’s do a song that sounds like ‘Dig Me Out'”; they’ve come back and delivered an awesome album of jagged, almost pop songs putting the album sonically somewhere around their early 2000s output, but lyrically they have grown even more. Sleater-Kinney, particularly from 1997 were, pure and simple, a rock band. A rock band with some incredible song writing skills. They had punk roots and an understanding of how a pop song works, two of the most distinctive voices in music, and a fairly unique set-up of two guitars, no bass and drums. As well as the greatest drummer in the world. Ever.
“No Cities To Love is ten fierce songs in 33 minutes, which sound like a continuation of the band which went on hiatus nine years ago, not some pointless cash-in reunion garbage. Like I suspect the Faith No More album will be.”
Here endeth the Leggoe lesson. #leggoelesson