Sleater-Kinney is one of the most widely-praised rock bands of the last 20 years. The band formed in the mid-90s in Olympia, Wash., and went on to record seven albums. The group split up in 2006, but have reunited to release a new album, called No Cities to Love, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says it's a strong comeback.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
Sleater-Kinney is one of the most widely praised rock bands of the last 20 years. The band formed in the mid '90s in Olympia, Washington, and went on to record seven albums. The group split up in 2006 but have reunited to release a new album called the "No Cities To Love." Rock critic Ken Tucker says it's a strong comeback.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY DARLING")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Hey darling, you're not home. This is your phone though, right? Explanations are thin, but I feel it's time. You want to know where I've been for such a long time. Disappearing act right before your eyes. It seems to me the only thing that comes from fame's mediocrity. How could you steal the thing I love and keep it from me just out of touch? Hey darling, the situation was justified.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The only thing that comes from fame is mediocrity, sings Corin Tucker on that song, "Hey Darling." That assertion is debatable. I can think of quite a few other things that can come from fame, but Sleater-Kinney doesn't have to worry about mediocrity. Famous within a nexus of cult stardom and critical acclaim, the band has come roaring back with a confident urgency that is exhilarating to hear.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRICE TAG")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) The bells go off. The buzzer calls. The traffic starts to buzz. The clothes are stiff. The fabrics itch. The fit's a little rough. But I suck it in to every stitch trying to fit inside the glow. I scrambled eggs for little legs. The day's off in a rush. It's 9 AM. We must clock in. The system waits for us. I stock the shelves. I work the rows. The product's all I - if I could flip the switch, the system fix, I could move us to the top. The numbers roll. It's time to go, but never fast enough.
TUCKER: That's "Price Tag," a song whose lyric is about people working low-paying jobs in our dodgy economy. The words tell the details. Corin Tucker's voice communicates the frustration and pain. Tucker has always been an extraordinary vocalist. She has a huge voice that cuts across the guitars and drums like a scraper chipping away ice on a car's windshield. Words frequently disappear when they emerge from Tucker's throat. It helps to hunt down lyrics if you want to know what a song is about, although most of the time the song is really about the sound of Corin Tucker's voice, whatever bold or agonized or joyous sound it's making.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SURFACE ENVY")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Throw me a rope. Get me line. I haven't seen daylight in what must be days. Took the long way down, lost track of myself. Confidence fell down the steepest of slopes. If you get me line, let me know. (Unintelligible). I feel so much stronger now that you're here. We've got so much to do. Let me make that clear. We win. We lose. Only together do we break the rules. We win. We lose. Only together do we break the rules. I'm breaking the surface.
TUCKER: We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules, goes the chorus of that song, "Surface Envy." The second line makes a crucial shift, changing break to make the rules. Powered by Brownstein's guitar and Weiss's drumming, Sleater-Kinney forms a three-person collective that makes its own rules about how a song is constructed, how much of a structure it needs to work as rock 'n roll and how little it takes to explode that structure. On their best songs - and there are quite a few here - Sleater-Kinney music consists of irreducible chunks of melody, riffs and noise. Few bands reform with their power as intact as Sleater-Kinney have. Fewer still brag about their power and make their claim something more than a brag.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ANTHEMS")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) A low hiss telling you something's amiss. Can you hear the sound? I whisper I could do it better when I look around. I'm the siren self beaming from the highest shelf. You should really look down. There is a roadblock that I couldn't unlock. I really get around. Seduction, pure function - it's how I learned to speak. Steal your power in my hour. I will change most everything.
TUCKER: In the years since Sleater-Kinney disbanded in 2006, its members have done other projects. Brownstein cocreated the TV comedy "Portlandia" with Fred Armisen. Weiss was the drummer in, among others, the band Wild Flag. And there's been a good group called the Corin Tucker Band. But with an album like "No Cities To Love," it seems as though there's no work these women do that is more important, more enjoyable and more challenging than the music they create as Sleater-Kinney. I'm really looking forward to seeing them when they start their tour.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new album from Sleater-Kinney, "No Cities To Love."
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Myers, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman and Therese Madden. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.