The Hot Rock
Kill Rock Stars Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/14/1999
Moving sucks. And after being a college student for all of seven years, I've become accustomed to boxing things up and moving at the drop of a thirty day notice. (Usually due to house roommates packing up and leaving on a short notice) Just when you find that right apartment, scoped out every nitch of its charm, you find yourself in a new environment. And in most cases, that new environment isn't nearly as cozy as your last.
Okay, enough with the apartment analogy. Much like getting used to a new place, getting used to a musical departure takes some effort for music fan. As much courage as it takes an artist to willfully ask an audience to go down a slightly non-beaten path, it takes some courage for a listener to keep an open mind.
Sleater-Kinney's latest album, The Hot Rock, is that sort of album. Their last album, Dig Me Out, was a joyous romp, think the Go Gos on methamphetamines. It had monster riffs and the vocal tag team of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker drew some comparisons to the Keith Richards/Mick Jagger chemistry. The album was so well received that it finished behind only Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind and Radiohead's OK Computer in the Village Voice "Pazz and Jop Poll" in 1997.
Though commercial success still evaded the band, that could have been solved with one or two Dig Me Out type hits on The Hot Rock. Rock music needs a jolt and it still has a large buying audience and Sleater-Kinney is one of those bands that can tap into that market. But instead of doing a retread of Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney take a different path and come up with a batch of quiet, slightly subdued tracks on The Hot Rock.
The surprises aren't immediately there in The Hot Rock. While songs like "Little Babies" and "Dance Song '97" grabbed you by the neck and forced a melody in your head that you couldn't escape for the rest of the day. But new songs on The Hot Rock have that quality.
Still, The Hot Rock shines with tight musicianship. The dual guitar work of Brownstein and Tucker is as tight wound as ever. And Janet Weiss, the newest member of the band, has a great ear for rhythm: especially her use of the snare.
Relationships are still Tucker's muse on The Hot Rock. Her unique lyrics: sometimes spoken in fragments, detail relationships in all stages. On "Burn, Don't Freeze," she gets creative, singing, "I'd set your heart on fire/but arson is no way/ to make a love burn brighter." But on "Don't Talk Like," she slaps you with a defiant lyric like, "Don't talk like you're nineteen/you're thirty-five."
Gossip freaks who will try to decipher whether or not each lyric has some sort of lesbian undertone or overtone to it will totally be turned off with The Hot Rock. Straight/bi/gay/lesbian whatever: in Sleater-Kinney's world, a relationship that falls apart hurts and jars just the same in any situation.
The more I listen to The Hot Rock, the more I like it. But the unabashed magic that the band possessed on Dig Me Out is lacking on The Hot Rock. It seems the band tried to establish a more subdued, intimate sound on this album. And they accomplished their goal. With every listen, The Hot Rock yields more and more rewards. But in the back of your mind, you still pine for an atomic blast like "Words And Guitar" to shake some dust off the top of your speakers.