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The Hot Rock

music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: The Hot Rock

Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Genre: Rock/Pop, Punk
Release Date: February 1999

Review by LarryG
2 stars out of 4

Sleater-Kinney have been critics' darlings from the start of their career. There's some justification for that. Their music sounded different. It was the sound of strong women, made especially distinctive by Corin Tucker's unique, shrill vocals, which communicated both pain and a confident willingness to be different.   From the title track of their breakthrough record, Call the Doctor, Tucker cast herself as an outsider, lamenting a world where "they want to socialize you", "they want to dignify, analyze, terrorize you." The band made spare rock with overlapping vocal lines punctuated by Carrie Brownstein's tough, sharp guitar lines. It's always been a challenge to listen to a whole album of Tucker's shrieking, which has the sense of a woman possessed. The challenge is even greater on the Hot Rock, which doesn't have as many appealing songs as its predecessors. Call the Doctor had punk rage in songs like Little Mouth and fun, fast rock songs like Stay Where You Are.  Dig Me Out, their best record, retained their intensity and individuality but had improved songwriting and a clearer sound. The result was a lot of great rock songs. The Drama You've Been Craving, Dig Me Out and Words and Guitar were fast, exciting rock songs and the band showed a new subtlety on One More Hour and Little Babies.

Unfortunately, on The Hot Rock, the band seems to be treading water and the sound has stop evolving.  Since we've already heard the raw vocals and lean, low budget guitar rock sound, another record of the same means diminishing returns. Sleater-Kinney are interesting writers so there are many nuggets to be found. Perhaps part of the reason for the relative lack of luster of The Hot Rock is that members of the band have gone through tough romantic times. A number of the songs are about shattered relationships. However, on a number of songs, the band turns sad feelings into very good songs. The strength of Tucker's voice contradicts the desperation of the lyrics as she sings, "baby don't you leave me" in Start Together. Burn, Don't Freeze is classic Sleater-Kinney, a driving rock song where the singers trade overlapping vocals. At the start of the song, Brownstein is the cynic while Tucker is an innocent who trusted when her lover "said I'd blossom under your care" but by the end, she declares that "I'm the one who decides who I am." On Memorize Your Lines, the singers trade roles with Brownstein playing the lovelorn woman who wakes up "feeling dead." while Tucker is ready for a fight. Some of the lyrics seem a little overdone. The metaphors, of a jewel heist to recapture a heart from an unworthy suitor in the title track, sung by Brownstein, and of the band as a ship sailing around all kinds of obstacles in The End Of You, are a little heavy handed. God is a Number is a fairly ordinary complaint that computers and technology can mean that the heart and the human mind have less relevance. Banned From the End of the World, the song that follows, is lighter lyrically and musically and has more fun with millenial fear. On the last couple songs of The Hot Rock, the band tries slightly different things to good effect. Memorize Your Lines is fairly standard Sleater-Kinney but it benefits from the subtle addition of strings. A Quarter to Three has a slower, relaxed feel and shows that Tucker's vocals don't have to be really annoying. Brownstein and Tucker are clearly bright and talented.

Since they've established their indie cred, it's probably time to expand their sound, hire a bass player and go beyond the low budget thing. A taste for Sleater-Kinney is a very personal thing.  Under any circumstances, Tucker's harsh wail would be basically unlistenable to many listeners while their most rabid core of listeners will undoubtedly still enjoy the Hot Rock. Still, it seems that Sleater-Kinney has missed an opportunity to win over unconverted alternative fans looking for more edgy fare.



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