The 80s underground music scene flourished under the conservative reign of Reagan, suffered accordingly for both of Clinton's terms, so cool hunters could realistically expect a rebirth of passionate protest from the sidestream's finest.
But wow...nothing happened.
With the Patriot Act making it easier for citizens rights to be diminished for The Greater Good, artists suddenly scurried into their dark holes, frightened to raise questions and rattle cages. Sleater-Kinney were among the few brave souls, and they weren't content to offer just a protest song; One Beat is a whole damn album dedicated to the fight against fear and its many children--complacency, ignorance, hatred, and propaganda.
"One Beat"--Shakin' out the fossilized thought from second one, Corin asks "Is real change an illusion?" and the answer is...In these days and times, most likely. Real change is necessary for any body to stave off atrophy, to develop strength and wisdom, to reach ever closer to its fullest potential. If the denizens of this here globe had never at any point provoked genuine revolution, those of us alive right now wouldn't find ourselves in the world as we know it. A world where we have more information at our disposal than ever before, but too much disposal information. Hence, the unlikelihood of real change for the better.
"One Beat" sets the sonic tone with jagged, defiant guitar work, voices confident enough to slip on passion, and the march-precise drumming.
"Far Away"--With just a second to steel ourselves, we the listeners are thrown into Corin Tucker's raw remembrance of September 11th, when what should have been just another fabulous morning with her new baby boy went to hell already on fire. This recollection of watching the horror unfold on television, in a home thousands of miles away from the disaster sites, proves that tragedy is not provincial. (So much galled me about that terrible time. Nothing more so than the loss of thousands of lives. But my God, when otherwise well-intentioned people started that whole "Today We Are All New Yorkers" crap. I got no time for it. When an event of that magnitude occurs, it throws into sharp relief the silliness of boundaries, labels, barriers and dividing lines. We are citizens of the world.)
Corin gives her words the room they need to reverberate. Which they do with a power unmatched by any other song in their history.
"Far Away" is a shield against a collapsing sky. Dented, but not destroyed.
"Oh!"--Come along and ride on an onanistic voyage! After a pair of political powder-kegs, it's time for Carrie Brownstein (armed and legged with a new, sassier delivery) to bring that heart beat, oh it's a love beat. "Crazy to sane," "black to blue," it's all star power star power star power over y'all.
"The Remainder"--An abrasive rebuff of a traitorous relation. Yessir. I do not know who or what put the idea in my head that the subject of this song was Sara Dougher, Portland musician/writer/teacher and SK collaborator. The watery effect on Carrie's background vox is unnecessary, but harmless.
"Light Rail Coyote"--A tribute to Portland told with a short story writer's descriptive eye, "Light Rail Coyote" is all brown and green. This music is the new classic rock ("dirty river" is so CCR). Warm, familiar, to be blared. And based on a true story.
"Step Aside"--Canopies torn away, solar-powered sockets spark the dirt dance floor, pardon me is that a horn section? Yeah, but the breakdown is the hottest rock, so step to a side but don't stay there.
A lyrical misstep, however: "When I feel worn out/When I feel beaten/Like a worn-out shoe/Or a cake half eaten." Well shit, at least it didn't get waterlogged, so you can make it again! (Bringing up cake in songs is almost always not a good look.) Alternate lyric: "When I feel beaten/When I feel worn out/Like a used-up fuel/Or a page torn out."
"Combat Rock"--A fitting song title for the racket-gang that realistically could be called, from 1997 on, The Only Band That Matters. Carrie's terse Morse Code of Moral Cohesion is blunt and insolent and refreshing. Simply put, all the boys in all the bands weren't writing songs of this fiber. They fucking still aren't, actually.
Love is never having to bite your tongue. America the Beautiful, America the Brutal. We need to get off our knees and sing these songs at the top of our lungs.
"O2"--It's vital to stay strong. It's helpful to thrill to the wide open spaces. Elixir is hoax-milk; music is the juice of life. "O2" is always paired with "Light Rail Coyote" in my mind as sweet evocations of Portland life, foliage updates and all. Don't you just love those songs that are one continuous climax? Don't they roil all the good honest emotions up in your chest until you just laugh 'cause it sounds better than a shout or scream?
"Funeral Song"--Carrie returns to her usual semi-croon here, 'cause ain't nothin' sassy 'bout dyin'. Dead's just dead. "Nothing says 'forever' like my very own grave."
Janet is as relentless as an assassin. Here, there, everywhere. She's got more than one beat, even though one really is all you need. Beat back the hounds; don't fear the reaper, set that fucker on fire. Fill the void with rocks and sounds. Great pyro-imagery here, and if the last thing I hear before my fire is snuffed out by the coldest hand is the buzz and whine of a theremin, I can (cease to) live with that.
"Prisstina"--A tale about a bookworm gone club-bunny that sounds more than anything like a New Wave experiment. I'm not sure why this made it, but "Lions and Tigers" didn't. (I'm sure Patrick will jump in to explain the importance of mood in sequencing. Then he can jump right back out and get me a sammich.)
Holy shit, are those male backing vocals? Yes but unfortunately it's not Fred Schneider, it's Stephen Trask. Who is a top-notch individual I've no doubt. Certain crevices of the Interweb were explored and found to contain fans who were nonplussed (definition the first) over Trask's contributions. Something about the exclusively female realm being breached.
(Neat bit of trivia that will never appear on Jeopardy! and made Slim Moon think about reaching for the Tums: on the vinyl and CD tracklistings, "Funeral Song" and "Prisstina" are transposed.)
"Hollywood Ending"--Hollywood, where real change is an illusion, along with every other goddamn thing else. Sun, smog, fame, love. Everyone is doing instead of being, slick as lotion on fake skin. "You stay on till you're good and raw."
"Sympathy"--Corin's is the strongest overall voice on One Beat, and the closing salvo is a spiritual stomper. "Far Away" gave us a peek at new mother Corin fearing for the world her child would inherit; "Sympathy" tells us that it almost never happened.
On the list of things that will, almost without fail, cause even the staunchest skeptic to reach out to a God somewhere, almost losing your newborn child has gotta be top 3. I still maintain that thinking you may be about to die is number one. We are selfish creatures, us humans. "We are equal in the face of what we are most afraid of, " sings Tucker. No one has ever been too great to die. But goddamnit, the terrified parent says, give my child the chance to be great first!
To hear the selflessness of "Sympathy" is to hear the quintessence of motherhood. Mama Bear will do anything for Baby Bear, including taking a steaming bowl of porridge (just) right to the face.
If the only thing between me and a black bear is my mom, I can tell you this. Maybe that black bear dies, maybe my mom dies, but you know who doesn't die in this scenario? That's what moms do. A mother's love for her child is the purest love there is. I won't say "purest love imaginable," because it can't be imagined. It must be felt, first-hand. Heart to heart, one beat at a time.