All Hands on the Bad One
(Kill Rock Stars)

Next stop Woodstock Rockfest 2000, right grrrls? Hardly. If the widespread hubbub over last year's The Hot Rockleft many wondering if the Portland-Olympia trio would soon outgrow its indie britches, this 13-song political opus will set a few minds straight. Sleater-Kinney's fifth album is a straight shot of the core set of values the group set out with from the start, even if the songwriting and cultural critiques have sharpened in the process. Singer Corin Tucker may have finally grown into her voice, mastering its wiry range and fever pitch better than she ever has in the past. The interplay between Tucker and Carrie Brownstein's tandem guitar is more intricate and textured than even on The Hot Rock, and tight production by John Goodmanson (Dig Me Out,Bikini Kill, Mocket) has cleaned up the garage without throwing out the atmosphere. Tucker and Brownstein's harmonizing dominates much of the album, and their melodic counterpoint singing strikes the tone of a conversation in song that we're lucky enough to overhear.

Still, at the forefront of Bad One, as always, are the lyrics, angry dissections of a male-dominated music industry in which the "gettin' laid/gettin' paid" ethos is as strong as ever. "#1 Must Have" unravels the commodification of feminist ideals in the hands of the biz: "Now who would have believed this riot grrrl's a cynic/ But they took our ideas to their marketing stars/ And now I'm spending my days at Trying to buy back a little piece of me," as Tucker sings. More than just ideals have been stolen however; as the song progresses, she rattles, "And will there always be concerts where women are raped/ Watch me make up my mind instead of my face." Throughout the album, what comes across most strongly is the sense that the members of Sleater-Kinney remain imminently aware of the power of words -- both theirs and those of others -- to whoever's listening. At a time when bands and record labels regard vast sections of the music-consuming public -- teenage girls for example -- as easy money (parents and their pocketbooks willing), it's obvious that Sleater-Kinney's time is now.

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