Sleater-Kinney: One Beat
Kill Rock Stars
My allegiance has shifted. Despite the many great moments commanded by Corin Tucker's usual hydra-in-a-tumble-dry ululations, my favorite parts on One Beat come from the more limited pipes of her co-singer/guitarist, Carrie Brownstein. You remember Brownstein: She's the dark-haired one whose voice sounds like she means to taunt the world rather than swallow it whole. On several new songs, she indulges her habit of snapping line-ending syllables so they all sound roughly like "uh-OH." No wonder the song that's simply titled "Oh!" is the best thing on the album: Not only do Brownstein's punky mannerisms ground Tucker's leaps, but they've never sounded more confident. When Brownstein sings, "I'm the one who makes you feel good," you don't doubt her for a second.
On the surface, One Beat is just as much a study in contrasts as its vocalists' styles are. The relatively uncomplicated joy of "Oh!" and "Step Aside" (the first Sleater-Kinney song to feature horns, apparently imported from a 1968 Rascals session) are balanced by material that's explicitly post-9/11 and explicitly political about it. Yeah, I winced, too, until I heard the songs: Both "Far Away," Tucker's helpless response to the actual event, and the confrontational "Combat Rock" ("Show you love your country/Go out and spend some cash/Red white blue hot pants/ Doing it for Uncle Sam") may be the first songs about that subject that you might actually call sensible (not to mention listenable).
Except that description makes the songs and the musicians sound boring and sanctimonious. They're not. They're fierce, committed, and momentous, and--with the exception of the uncertain-sounding closer, "Sympathy"--they don't let up for a second on One Beat. Even something as rote as the good-girl-gone-bad "Prisstina," a collaboration with Hedwig and the Angry Inch composer Stephen Trask, lifts off like nothing they've done since Dig Me Out. That used to be my favorite Sleater-Kinney album, but what can I say? Once again, my allegiance has shifted.
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