Given that Sleater-Kinney’s catalog has a couple of hiccups in it, including their most recent album, and given that that most recent album was nine years prior and in the interim Carrie Brownstein has basically become Carrie Brownstein, Inc., it would be understandable to come into No Cities To Love with low expectations. Thankfully, it only takes one listen to dispel that pessimism and you can spend your remaining listens unabashedly enjoying it.
Not content to rehash old styles, nor leave their bread and butter behind in search of a new sound, Sleater-Kinney here is succinct, packing a powerful punch, harnessing their anger and disappointment with the issues into a “yes we can” whirlwind, appropriate for the first Obama-era release of a band that hung it up early in Bush’s second term.
The very good Side One, headlined by the dustdevil opener “Price Tag” and “Surface Envy” is a warm up the the back half of the record, where the band has concentrated its best songs. The best song on the album, the anthemic “No Anthems,” leads it off, and the last three tracks wrap up the album with a strength and acceleration that leaves you wanting more, the way a great album should. Even “Gimme Love” might be higher than Like if it weren’t surrounded by such awesomeness.
The guitar work has matured intellectually but hasn’t lost a bit of energy, and the vocals are as strong as they ever were (listen to her give it all to get over the band in “Surface Envy”) but what used to be a shotgun wail is now a focused laser beam. This is exactly where you would have wanted S-K, and hell, all of the riot grrl movement, to end up. The self-pity and unbridled rage that worked so well as a youth movement learning to speak for itself is now finely honed, losing none of its power but gaining so much more in precision.
4.5 clowns is tempting, and maybe it would have been there with one more Mix CD Candidate or if “A New Wave” nad been scratched. Still, a high four clowns with very little to complain about, this is a very worthy addition to the already great, if slightly uneven, S-K catalog.
Mix: “No Anthems,” “Hey Darling”
Really Like: “Price Tag,” “Surface Envy,” “Bury Your Friends,” “Fade”
Like: “Fangless,” “No Cities To Love,” “Gimme Love”
Meh: “A New Wave”
Song Notes: After the jump
- Price Tag – anti-Wal-Mart in the sense of “we can get low prices but at what cost”
- Fangless – guit solo is boring, noodly
- Surface Envy – the guitar is freakballs amazeballs. spurty and seems almost random/noisy in a Sonic Youth way but it really adds to the song.
- No Cities To Love – one of the most accessible and catchy songs on the record. “It’s not the cities it’s the weather we love”? I have no idea what this is about.
- A New Wave – the worst one, has got that tweety chirpy vocal thing.
- No Anthems – what that title of course this is the anthemic one that’s so good for running. the best one.
- Gimme Love – has a bit of “A New Wave” to it, spesh in the verses, but the choruses are awesome.
- Bury Your Friends – anti-capitalism, or at least anti-greed, -Wall Street.
- Hey Darling – awesome
- Fade – they close with three great tracks. hell, the second side is totes amazeballs.