2015 is starting with a bang. January sees the release of the first new Sleater-Kinney material in a decade. Album number eight, 'No Cities To Love', brings a certain level of anxiety and anticipation. Can a band, whose members are now all in their forties, still possess the youthful urgency that defined their earlier records? Is Sleater-Kinney's Riot Grrrl aesthetic and political commentary still relevant? Ultimately, does the material live up to Sleater-Kinney's legacy which has grown dramatically during their hiatus? The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes! 'No Cities To Love' really does live up to the hype, delivering a concise slice of classic Punk Rock that sits comfortably amongst Sleater-Kinney's best records.
All three members have continued to be active musicians in the meantime, but as Carrie Brownstein's 2011 project Wild Flag showed, there really is power in a union. While Wild Flag wasn't a disappointment, it demonstrated that there is something unique to her collaborative songwriting with Corin Tucker under the Sleater-Kinney banner. The band members have made it clear their new material isn't about nostalgia, fans may disagree. But the combination of Tucker and Brownstein, backed by Janet Weiss' drums, is just as vital as ever, and the ten songs here instantly feel like it's business as usual.
Straight out of the gate, 'Price Tag' re-introduces those familiar off-kilter battling guitars fighting for prominence. It's all jagged nerve-shredding Pop-infused hooks racing towards a noisy crescendo. Lyrically, the track highlights economic inequality and affordability in a world where "the good job is gone". It's a searing commentary on financial insecurity in the 21st century, which is interestingly underlined by the very last line on the album's closing track 'Fade': "oh, what a price that we paid, my dearest nightmare, a conscience, the end". 'Price Tag' sets the tone for the whole record: intelligent and thought provoking, loud and brash, angry and earnest, but all the songs possess a real emotional core.
'Hey Darling' poses an interesting question. "Seems to me the only thing that comes from fame is mediocrity", echoes the chorus as you wonder if this is a self-critique. If it's a tongue in cheek comment on Sleater-Kinney's high profile return, it's unnecessary modesty. By this late stage in the record the trio has proved their brand of quick-fire politicised Pop-Punk is far from mediocre, indeed the later songs are amongst the best. 'Bury Our Friends', which was the album's first single, remains the stand-out moment here. It's an emotional state of the union that pinpoints exactly why the Sleater-Kinney dynamic still works. This is a band with a devoted following, which now has the added benefit of being informed by age and experience. The modern world can be a scary place, but Sleater-Kinney's approach does help to put things in perspective.
So yes, Sleater-Kinney 2.0 is perhaps a little slicker than their earliest records
Yes, there isn't quite the level of experimentation they'd reached with their seventh album 'The Woods'. However, because many of the songs have great Pop inspired melodies dressed up in the noisiest way possible, it's difficult to get them out of your head. 'No Cities To Love' is therefore catchy, relevant, and a triumphant return. That's an impressive feat for an album with so much expectation on its shoulders.
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