Band – Sleater-Kinney
Album – No Cities To Love
Label – Sub Pop
I’m going to start this review with a story. I have a few set stories that I seem to tell every time someone mentions a certain band, it drives my wife, Hannah, nuts so I thought if I commit my Sleater-Kinney story to print it might stop my retelling it at every available opportunity and save my marriage. It’s not even a great story but here goes anyway. Back in 1998 I was 18 years old and had gotten in to Sleater-Kinney in a big way, ‘Dig Me Out’ was blowing me away every time I heard it and when they announced they were touring over here my best friend, Paul, and I snapped up tickets.
It was September of that year that we made our way to Kings College, London, for the show and decided to watch from the upstairs balcony. It was our preferred way to watch bands at the time, especially if the show was at the Astoria, the view from upstairs on the left so you were virtually on the side of the stage was unbeatable. Sleater-Kinney began to play and they sounded great, it was then that we noticed that someone was stood next to us to our right. It was Jarvis Cocker. Now, we were never big Pulp fans and the whole Britpop/cool Britannia thing was definitely fading at this time but that didn’t stop us tapping each other on the shoulder and saying ‘Look, it’s Jarvis Cocker’. We went back to paying our full attention to the band, when I did look back to where Jarvis was standing he had gone, we looked back to where there were some booths with tables at and they were some proper smug, sharp suit wearing, twats with expensive haircuts guffawing loudly and drinking heavily. We soon realised these were Jarvis’s friends and he was sat with them. We gave them so filthy looks to show our annoyance at them, not that they noticed. And after that I noticed Jarvis only came back to look at the band one more time for a couple of minutes during the whole set and spent the rest of the show with his ‘friends’. We obviously managed to watch the rest of the show ok, Sleater-Kinney were incredible and totally cemented my feelings for them. But after the show the Jarvis thing had really wound us up and took up much of the conversation on the way home. What a scenester, what a fake, bet he got in free, bet he spoke to them afterwards and said how great they were, hope his yuppy friends choke on their own vomit, were the kind of things we were saying to each other. It left a bitter taste in the mouth. Thinking about it, he might just happened to have been there, maybe he and his friends always hung out there but that didn’t stop us drawing our own conclusions. In our eyes he was no better than the idiots that would turn up to the local punk shows just to hang outside and get drunk. He has since become revered as some indie godfather, some icon of cool but every time I see his weasley face all I wanna scream is Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!!!
Ok, hope I didn’t bore you too much with this weeks trip down memory lane, on with the review.
It feels strangely like I’ve woken from a coma to discover that Sleater-Kinney are now the biggest band in the world. This band that I have completely loved since I was a teenager in the late 90s seem to be everywhere right now. It’s weird yet exciting. Weird I never knew anyone, bar a few friends, really cared and obviously exciting because they really are one of the best bands in the world and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have them back.
Sleater-Kinney are an anomaly. Over the course of the 10 years or so that they were actively together putting out records they never put a foot wrong. They consistently released incredible record after incredible record, constantly reinventing their sound without ever losing their identity. They never phoned it in, never lazily put out a live record or submitted anything below par. It didn’t matter how popular they got, they never changed for anyone except themselves. How many bands even get to release 7 studio albums? Let alone their 7th being one of the best albums of their career, yet Sleater-Kinney did just that with their 2005 classic ‘The Woods’. They ended their initial run on a total, overly distorted and noisy as fuck career high. As they’ve said in recent interviews, stopping when they did has made it easier to ‘comeback’. They left us wanting much more and now they can pick up where they left off. Instead of cashing in on former, early career glories, with reunion tours of one crowd favourite record in full, they are properly back. And with ‘No Cities to Love’ they have delivered the goods.
‘No Cities to Love’ is there most concise record to date, gone are the extended, improvised, noise solo’s and general rocking out that made ‘The Woods’ such a classic, here they have stripped everything back to leave 10 songs that barely exceed 3 and a half minutes all of which have a massive focus on hooks. This record has more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, it’s so flipping instantly catchy that you won’t be able to resist its charms, ‘Gimme Love’ will find itself lodged in your subconscious for quite some time. Even when lyrically mixing in the politics of wage slavery and cultural identity they will be making you wanna get up and move. To back these hooks up, Sleater-Kinney sound big on this record. The production leaps out at you like ‘The Woods’ did, it’s loud but with a crispness to it. Even with the multiple effects laden guitars, there is a clarity to it all which makes it all the more special when Carrie Brownstein’s lead guitar is given free rein to go off on a Sonic Youth tangent like it does on ‘A New Wave’.
Everything that has ever made you love Sleater-Kinney in the past is still all here on ‘No Cities to Love’. The lo-fi indie sound of ‘The Hot Rock’ and ‘Dig Me Out’ are there in the guitar lines and chord progressions, Corin Tucker’s other worldly vocals shine through like only she can and Janet Weiss’s drums are just as solid as ever. This is definitely not a nostalgic cash cow, this is a continuation of an unparalleled, consistently astonishingly brilliant career.
‘No Cities to Love’ sounds so relevant it is hard to believe they’ve been gone for almost 10 years. All this talk of guitar bands being dead, albums being a thing of the past and a lack of bands good enough to headline festivals has been made to look ridiculous by 3 friends from Portland making one hell of a fucking brilliant record. Long live Sleater-Kinney!!!!!