by Philip Moss
In January, Sleater-Kinney posted a photograph to their Instagram page of the three piece, stood in front of a mixing desk, with Annie Clark aka St Vincent. In many ways, the decision to take on Clark as producer for their, as yet, untitled ninth studio album made a lot of sense. Who wouldn’t want to hear what the marriage of one of the most important indie rock bands of the last two and a half decades, with the enigmatic queen of now-ist alternative pop could conjure up?
The opener, and title track, The Center Won’t Hold, is everything you’d hope the pairing would produce. A mini-rock opera that doesn’t just flirt with industrial guitars, but builds an apocalyptic factory with them. And despite its hard, cold sound, it’s frightfully catchy – a hypnotic refrain brings a pop element, before it crashes into a change of pace, as a repetitive, punk rock assault brings it to its conclusion. It’s a stunning arrangement, and showcases the best of the band and their new producer. The ironic feminism of Hurry On Home, too, sees the band’s usual sonic blueprint pushed to eleven – the guitars are sharper, the melodies more refined and the outro grooves like New Order.
But after the opening pair, it starts to make sense why it was Ms Clark that stood at the front of the aforementioned studio image. If you didn’t know any better, Reach Out sounds as though it is sung by St Vincent, and its percussion is lifted straight from MASSEDUCTION – as are the riffs that dip in and out of Can I Go On, which – along with RUINS, Bad Dance and LOVE – are some of the most overt pop moments in the band’s back catalogue. Yes, they’re a little throwaway, but by gosh they’re addictive! And it’s at this point that it begins to become clear why drummer, Janet Weiss, hung up her sticks after 22 years – citing the band’s new direction – after the record’s completion.
It must be noted: none of this is a slight on the album, in fact, it makes for a hell of a listen. Where some bands get caught up making records that feel nostalgic, Sleater-Kinney have made a record that’s every bit as bold and exciting as their current contemporaries.
Secret Meeting score: 79
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