While I’m devastated to learn that Janet Weiss, the immensely talented and peerless drummer for Sleater-Kinney since 1996, has left the band due to what appear to be creative differences, I’m still holding out hope that S-K’s new album and tour will be memorable for all the right reasons. The Center Won’t Hold, Sleater-Kinney’s 9th studio album, will be released in August and then they head out on tour in support of the new music. In preparation for this new batch of S-K tunes, I wanted to take a look back at their studio discography (sorry, Sleater-Kinney Live In Paris) and offer my own “Worst to Best” list of how I personally feel about the albums Sleater-Kinney have released from their 1995 self-titled debut through 2015’s comeback record, No Cities To Love.
8. Sleater-Kinney (1995) – Their debut on Chainsaw Records is raw and angry (positive attributes) but also a bit primitive and repetitive (less positive attributes). The S-K sound of down-tuned guitars and the otherworldly screamed vocals courtesy of lead singer, Corin Tucker, is immediately present from the opener “Don’t Think You Wanna” all the way through to the end (“The Last Song”) of this relatively short release. This is S-K at their most Riot Grrrl pissed (fuck rapists and the patriarchy, btw) and no-holds barred feminist lyrics on tracks like “A Real Man” and “How to Play Dead” remain stark and abrasive, yet poignant.
Favorite Tracks: Be Yr Mama, The Last Song, Her Again
7. Call the Doctor (1996) – The band’s follow up to their self-titled debut is a significant improvement in overall songwriting and varying song structures. This album contains two of the most iconic Sleater-Kinney tracks in their entire discography, (the title track and “Joey Ramone”) as well as a number of other memorable songs. Call the Doctor is also notable for the (slightly) increased vocal role for lead guitarist, Carrie Brownstein, but also suffers slightly because Janet Weiss still hadn’t yet joined the band. The overall feel of the album is still very raw while expanding & improving on the S-K sound. Still considered one of their classics and possibly even their best album if you’re a fan of the earlier, more raw punk sound that Sleater-Kinney was known for in the beginning of their career.
Favorite Tracks: Call the Doctor, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Heart Attack
6. All Hands On the Bad One (2000) – A very good album that maybe just misses reaching greatness by the slightest of margins. With a few exceptions (“Youth Decay”, “You’re No Rock & Roll Fun”, “All Hands On the Bad One”), this album is chock full of good, but not exceptional or even super memorable, tracks. Still, it’s an overall cohesive and stellar record that may not be Sleater-Kinney’s greatest work, but definitely doesn’t miss the mark or take any significant steps back from The Hot Rock or Dig Me Out.
Favorite Tracks: Youth Decay, You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun, Ironclad
5. No Cities To Love (2015) – The gang returns from a 10 year hiatus by updating their sound without removing what made their music so great to begin with (poignant lyrics, feminist aesthetic, unapologetic energy). Carrie Brownstein’s role as a co-vocalist picks up where it left off with The Woods and Corin Tucker’s lead vocals remain just as jarring and thunderous as ever. Janet Weiss’s drumming continues on as the heartbeat of the band on this stellar release, which was my favorite album of 2015.
Favorite Tracks: Price Tag, New Wave, Surface Envy
4. The Hot Rock (1999) – S-K’s (in my opinion) underrated follow up to their breakthrough, Dig Me Out, The Hot Rock relies more on melody and less on the scorched earth vocals & grinding down-tuned guitars to get their band’s point across. Lyrical content also deviates more from the feminist anthems that permeated their first 3 records and incorporates more relationship heavy lyrics. At the time of its release, it might have been too much of a departure for the Riot Grrrl fans of their early discography, but this record holds up.
Favorite Tracks: Start Together, The End of You, Get Up
3. Dig Me Out (1997) – For me personally, the holy trinity of Sleater-Kinney albums begins with this Kill Rock Stars label breakthrough, which is also Janet Weiss’s first album with the band. Corin’s voice and Carrie’s guitar are still the most recognizable aspects of this record for most fans but Janet’s drums definitely make an immediate impact and are the low-key MVP of the album. It was an important ingredient that fans of Sleater-Kinney and Call the Doctor didn’t even know was missing until it manifests itself as the knock you off your feet kick in the ass at the beginning of “Dig Me Out”.
Favorite Tracks: Dig Me Out, One More Hour, Words + Guitar
2. One Beat (2002) – I always thought of One Beat as not only Sleater-Kinney’s most political album, with lyrics that address 9/11 and then President Bush’s handling of the war on terror, but also their “mommy record” with Tucker addressing the birth of her son in lyrics to songs such as on “Sympathy”. There’s also a lot musical creativity at work on this record, as S-K definitely play with their sound in ways that they hadn’t before. At the time, both musically and lyrically, this is S-K at their most adventurous, most challenging and their most Clash-like record to date (a compliment). Sorry, the obvious Clash comparison was going to be made if you have a track on your record called “Combat Rock”.
Favorite Tracks: One Beat, Light Rail Coyote, Funeral Song
- The Woods (2005) – Aggressive. Noisy. Beautiful. Challenging. Noisy. Harrowing. Haunting. Noisy. Their best record? Yes. Sure, it isn’t so much “Riot Grrrl” anymore as it is “Rawk Womyn” but 10 years into their career, this change in sound can’t be unexpected. Touring with one of the biggest rock bands in the world, Pearl Jam, will do that to a band. What can be found here is a bigger sound made for arenas but in reality, it’s made for headphones just as well. There’s so much production nuance on display here that some may call it overblown (the lo-fi crack and pop sound on “Modern Girl”, the wall of noise on “Rollercoaster” and well, on just about every track on this record), but I will call it “perfectly executed”. Brownstein’s snotty vocal style on “Entertain” is so disgusted with you poseurs that you can practically feel her saliva all over your face as she spits at you. Tucker’s demanding vocals are as present and accounted for as ever. Both in familiar ways, (“Let’s Call It Love”), and in ways you forgot she was even capable of (“The Fox”). Janet’s massive drum sound is all over this record and her drum-beat intro to “Entertain” is probably the most definitive “Janet Weiss Ass-Kicking” than anything done before and should be time-capsuled, if it hasn’t been already. Oh yeah, Sleater-Kinney’s best and most hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-straight-out song is on this record too. “Jumpers” gives me chills every time I listen to it and it’s just one of many, many highlights this album has to offer. Unparalleled brilliance can be found on every song.
Favorite Tracks: Jumpers, The Fox, Entertain