ands start with musical intent and a discovery of self. In trying to avoid definition, an easy mistake that bands who reach the enviable point of reliable quality make is to actively try to avoid being that predictable ‘self.’ What they don’t realize is that this is artistic suicide, like a painter using only their bad hand. Leaving, for all its appeal, isn’t the same thing as going somewhere.
Time and acclaim has done plenty to change Sleater-Kinney over the last ten years. Now many a person’s Joey Ramone, their protests from the crowd have transformed into speeches at the podium. After fighting to become comfortable with their own voices, they now play with funny accents and storytelling. From frustrated zeroes to critical heroes, their average song length has increased by over a minute, which is quite a bit when you start at two and a half. Despite this predictable evolution for any act who can depend on four-star raves for life, or perhaps because of it, they've announced their desire to throw away the script and start fresh: new label Sub Pop and new producer Dave Fridmann. After hearing the bloozy, turgid album opener “The Fox,” some might think its a whole new band—or at least that the Gossip has discovered Zeppelin.
The scabrous production and feminine shrieks of The Woods make for an easy comparison with Rid Of Me, but there’s a more depressing and accurate comparison: tired, bass-free emperors of their genre, led by a singer reaching almost parodistic exaggeration, try to avoid “stock” music and obvious grooves with the help of a producer more interested in getting a cheap sound than a good take. Violent, fucked up music made from a positive place. The Woods is THAT kind of monster, only Metallica was kind enough to cut out all the mediocre guitar solos.
Aside from the hysterical “Let’s Call It Love” (the end-of-track improv is actually enjoyable as an intro to “Night Light,” but you have to sit through four minutes of lo-fi Creed to get it), the album isn’t quite as embarrassing as St. Anger. The ridiculous in-the-red ruckus keeps you from noticing how hokey and contradictory the lyrics are. Almost all the songs are exciting for the first three minutes, which is as long as they’ve ever been able to keep the beat up. Only now instead of slamming into the next track they lamely improvise for a minute or three before repeating the chorus one last time. It’s like a friend who paces in the parking lot after a meal, trying to think of something cool to do before finally consenting to rent a DVD like you always do.
Part of what makes The Woods so frustrating is that underneath all the ill-conceived notions and neuroses they’re still one of the best rock bands in the world. “Rollercoaster” and “Jumpers” would be classics if they’d let a climax be a climax (repurchase Pink Flag, ladies! I beg you!). "Modern Girl" is as eerie as anything from The Hot Rock until Janet Weiss stomps through the door two minutes in—Fridmann, watch the levels! Why are you smiling? “Entertain,” the first single, gets way more play on my discman than it should—it’s five minutes of self-righteous culture critique complete with an “I am lying too” cop-out that sounds depressing, but the band initially makes the star tantrum as invigorating as “Public Image.” Weiss and Corin Tucker barrel down while Carrie Brownstein rips into the lyric with unprecedented, shameless violence. The drama is powerful enough that sometimes I don’t even notice the dismal, pro forma guitar solo and two minutes of defensive, middling build-up that suck all the life out of the song.
That the band cuts out some of the chaff of “Entertain” when they join the rank and file on our TV dial is only the latest example of S-K revealing just how unaware they are. You can’t upend the patriarchy while emulating the Who. Begging people to not listen to your music without the artwork while sending liner-free promos out four months in advance is a joke and it’s absurd to decry entertainers while having people pay to watch your increasingly jam-filled performances. The tension between desire and reality has always been the band’s source of power, but residual affection aside, their woes are becoming pathological and the last thing we need are more preening rock gods demanding our sympathy, male or female.
Reviewed by: Anthony Miccio
Reviewed on: 2005-05-24