Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 5--Burning Down the Clubhouse


The final finger for the fist was the band's most accessible platter yet, crafty and clean, polished and powerful, smart and fun throughout. An additional treat is the increased presence of drummer Janet Weiss on backing harmony vocals.

This is my favorite SK album, which is not a popular opinion whatsoever. It's that record many fans say "It's better than almost any other bands best, but compared to the other Sleater-Kinney albums..." Yeah, yeah. It might not be a gate-crushing rocker like Dig Me Out, but it's more varied and controlled, and a 101 on how to challenge the parameters of patriarchal thought without coming across as sententious assholes.

The replay value of this album is off the charts. Let's go.

"The Ballad of a Ladyman"--The showtime sheet at a Japanese rock festival read: "Sleater Kinney 8:30 'Ladymen'." The showtime sheet at ATP 2002 in Los Angeles read: "Sleeter Kinney." Outdated ideas of masculinity and femininity and masculinity versus piss-poor spelling, clearly Sleater-Kinney know how to fight the real enemy.

"I gotta rock!" Compromise is fer babies.

One of the greatest lyrics in their catalog ("Boys who are fearful of getting an earful") and one of the finest breakdowns of music recorded in the 21st century. Not perfect--'cause perfection sucks and should never be yearned for--but superb.

"Get-High Cream" would stink worse than Hitler breath.

"Ironclad"--Being a resident of Western Maryland, I pop crazed mental chubbies for Civil War references. My favorite field trip was the Antietam Battlefield; I've devoured book after book dedicated to the fight between the Blue and the Grey; I live a mile from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is not only an educational building but haunted as well. So when Carrie namedrops the Monitor and the Merrimack, yeeeeessssss. History! No surprise "Ironclad" was a staple on their setlist when they hit DC.

The jitter-jagger of Carrie's guit plays nice with Corin's corded muscle-work. Janet plays hide and seek lackadaisically, knowing that when she's found, the party is on. Right there in the middle of the museum.

You have many songs about hero worship, but not many about hero warships. In the frequently fractious relationship between the two C's, I wonder who was which ship?

"All Hands on the Bad One"--Sleater-Kinney, the hypocritical thinkers worst enemy. The first to on snark get set go all over the two-faced sycophants. You can get to heaven on the back of these harmonies. Everyone say hello to Sarah Dougher on organ; she'll pop up again. She'll also appear on the next album.

"Youth Decay"--Less sycophants, more psycho baby elephants.

The said issue of eating disorders doesn't deserve to be belittled by sour meanderings anyway. SK know the score: 1200 calories to 500. I'd love to gather up some bricks, concrete blocks, piss balloons and wet leaves and just blitzkrieg a McDonalds with this song blaring from the getaway car.

Is there some incest happening as well in this sordid domestic scenario? "Daddy says I got my Mama's mouth"? Eww.

"You're No Rock N Roll Fun"--Arguably the best SK song ever.

Two weeks after the release of All Hands, my favorite band of all time ever the one the only the Sonic Youth put out NYC Ghosts and Flowers, to my mind their weakest full-length release. Usually SY records take over my life, but this time I kept going back to SK. It's not inaccurate to say that for the remainder of 2000, the Pacific Northwest's finest had deposed the Beasts From the East as my number one racket-gang.

With songs like this, how could I resist? A smart-not-clever jibe at the self-important rock stars stinking up the post-gig scene, "You're No Rock N Roll Fun" does the Loco-motion all over those pretentious twats. Listen to this and learn how to get down.

"#1 Must Have"--At this point--the not-quite halfway mark--Sleater-Kinney have firmly established themselves as the most confident band on planet Earth. Nonbelievers invited to commence with the fucking of themselves in 3, 2....

Noted for Corin's direct identification of herself as a riot grrrl, "#1 Must Have" is a tic-tac-toe board X'ed and O'ed out with disgust and hope. At the band's final East Coast show in Washington, DC, Tucker dedicated this song to a young girl sitting onstage who had been brought to the show by her father. It's been five years since, and I hope that young lady will never fail to refer back to that moment for inspiration.

"The Professional"--A minute and a half is all it takes. Inerrant, erratic, radical. Carrie doesn't enunciate much here but who cares. Clarity is for the professionals. The "she" is the "them" there, see? Sleater-Kinney did nothing but piss off professionals their whole life long. The chorus mimics the feeling of being rewarded with a cheesecake.

"Was It a Lie?"--The agony of women as entertainment. This song was inspired by real-life, the pathetic story of a man who captured video of a young woman being struck by a train. The video became a sick hit, a source of comedy for too many.

Fittingly, "Was It a Lie?" is reminiscent of a deserted place: useless train tracks, sleepy hollow side roads, rednecks heads. Was it an evitable situation? Yeah. But whether or not this woman was fucked up, homeless, tired, lost, that makes her violent death funny? "A woman's life got cheaper that day." Everyone's life is becoming cheaper every day.

"Male Model"--The male ideal of musicianship gets a nice swift kick here. Corin is awesome, but Carrie is for the chidren. "Show me your riffs"? Holy shit that's fantastic. Fuck you, Woodstock '99. To this day. And the greatest mondegreen in the band's history can be found within these walls, as well.

"Don't get me wrong/I'm not opposed to something big." Clearly. This band once covered Boston live and took massive inspiration from the B-52's just as much as Gang of Four.


"Leave You Behind"--This coulda been a single, with a quirky video directed by some indie iconoclast, featuring the members in mini-skirts swaying offbeat in a hideously-decorated kitchen waiting for the pancakes to finish up. Lovely but lightweight.

"Milkshake N Honey"--Dedicated to the fans at SK's final show ever. This song breaks the swag-o-meter. Corin is dripping here, people. This is a gender-fuck par excellence. "I've always been a guy with a sweet tooth/And that girl was just like a king-sized candy bar." I'm guessing Patrick doesn't rate this song highly 'cause he's one o' them boys fearful of the earful. Too bad; this is a beautifully sleazy body-full.

"Pompeii"--The partially buried, now free to see the world. Nothing too deep here. Corin goes Grape Ape, so stick around for that.

"The Swimmer"--An engrossing routine that could have been titled "The Shimmer." Breast stroke all the way, then towel off, change and relax with a night-time kite-flight while Chopin streaks the sky from your stereo. A stunner.


  1. I am quite enjoying reading "the Jenn treatment" on all of SK's works. Always insightful.

    How cool is it that we are going to get to see Wild Flag with SY soon?


  2. And Wild Flag play 3 days before my birthday in DC.

  3. The Milkshake n' Honey shoutout to the fans has some backstory.

    The band played a soundcheck in the afternoon. You could hear it out on the street, coming through some upper story windows. A group went over to listen. They set up a chant for Milkshake and Honey. The chant was loud.

    The band heard this. Because, they played Milkshake n' Honey next in the soundcheck.

    A shoutout to one particular superfan who especially likes the song (she started the chant; she was front stage Corin-side for the show)? A shoutout to the group devoted enough to be up front at the last show? A shoutout to all Sleater-Kinney fans everywhere?

    Multiple levels of interpretation work, who the fans are.

  4. Wow. Sounds like a group of people I'd love to be a part of.

  5. Recently, I'm calling this sort of thing (*looks three posts above*) a "Sleeping in the Lion's Den" story.

    Your faith saves you.

    Blessed be those.

    Those fans are all right.

  6. The "she" in The Professional is also one Corrine "Third Degree" Burns.

    I love the music video at the end of the documentary about Corrine. YNRNRF, I think it's called.