The Center Won’t Hold
Mom & Pop Music
Do you remember that movie Boxing Helena? I kept thinking about that trashy 90s movie when I listened to this, either the brand new Sleater-Kinney album or, more likely, a St. Vincent record that has been Trojan Horsed into the world via what used to be one of the greatest indie-rock bands; two-thirds of which is left to promote this set of brittle pop songs that feel like the kind of sellout Sleater-Kinney would have never – ever – abided. Until they did. Which is now.
Hopefully someone with time on their hands will write an essay about the role of the producer in music. And how it might be to imbue a record with some of their spirit and signature but it’s not okay to just lay down the baking paper, get out the cookie-cutters and the marker pens and cut and paste and trace.
St. Vincent is now, worryingly, the owner of the worst guitar tone since Jack White. She’s far too good as a guitarist to sound that bad. And now she is bringing that processed sewing-machine sound to Sleater-Kinney; a band that loved messy guitars so much they didn’t even bother with bass.
Carrie Brownstein has been fronting the press. Talking about how Janet Weiss, the now departed drummer of the band (who recorded parts for this record then bailed) was the one to suggest St. Vincent. She’s also telling off fans for thinking they can decide what Sleater-Kinney is. Well, hey, fair enough on that – but also, don’t be the same thing forever. Then change overnight. Or at least don’t do that and expect zero push-back. Fans make a band as much as any of the members. Deal with it. You sign up for the good times. You sign up for the bad times.
All of this is me killing time to say that I cannot hear Sleater-Kinney on this record. I can only hear St. Vincent. And I like some of what St. Vincent has done. A lot. But not on this record. This is just not what I want from Sleater-Kinney. So at least I have the back-catalogue to still chew on and chew through. And that’ll do. Because this album is horrible.
It will of course go on to do very well. But I keep thinking about Boxing Helena. Specifically, a review that talked about how Kim Basinger breaching her contract to step out from the movie had cost her millions of dollars and how that was in fact money very well spent. The movie was a turkey. And Bassinger would go on to do anything else (including, for example, L.A. Confidential).
Janet Weiss might not have had to pay millions. But I like to think she knew a dud when she heard one. And she is off the hook now. Away from this shitty-horrible album.
The only honesty in this album, the only thing true to the spirit of Sleater-Kinney is this album’s title.
The Center Won’t Hold.
The band’s anchor, its best component, one of the great drummers of the last two decades, is free. She leaves with head held high. With dignity. With a new band lined up already. She walks away. She won’t be boxed in by this.
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