Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (Mom+Pop/digital outlets)

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Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (Mom+Pop/digital outlets)

The previous album No Cities to Love by US alt.rockers Sleater-Kinney – their return to the frontline after a decade away – was such a thrilling, confrontational, bruising and yet melodic scalpel taken to personal and socio-political issues that it was impossible to turn away.

And as we said in our review at the time, it “reminds you how faint-hearted, insipid and just plain dull so many young women artists are these days. For many it's as if they gave up before they even started.”

We also concluded “I suspect this is no swan song”.

And it a way it wasn't because here – produced with Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) – is the furious and compelling pop/alt.rock follow-up.

But in another way it is, because two months ago drummer Janet Weiss quit the band she had been a part of for more than 20 years.

Wrapped up in the knife-edge vocals, raw playing and powerful post-punk songs (think everyone from Penetration, Gang of Four, Pretenders-style pop structures on the ballad Restless, a smidgen of industrial strength rock) as well as grunge-era anger/energy/attack, buzzed-up bleak Gothic (Ruins) and mainstream pop (The Dog/The Body which is closer to the Bangles than the Pixies).

And even New Wave electro-pop on LOVE.

Lyrically these songs often take their lead from the century-old Yeats poem The Second Coming which the album's title alludes to: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed on the world . . . the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.”

And doesn't that sum up current world politics of division and hatred, the passionate intensity of the worst among us?

Tapping that discomfort and anger, Sleater-Kinney offer the pop-length, distorted but danceable Bad Dance: “Dip your toes into the chaos . . . I have rigged the game”

This is dancing on a precipice while the rocks are crumbling beneath your feet.

The even worse news come in the title of The Future is Here, a gloomy Cure-like pop landscape of people stuck on screens and disconnected: “Never have I felt so lost and goddam alone . . . I need you more than I ever have, because the future's here and we can't go back.”

There's a very interesting running order here from the dark industrial clank of the opening title track towards the more pop-rock songs at the centre to the pop of The Dog/The Body and the final, sensitive #MeToo piano ballad Broken: “I'm breaking in two because I'm broken inside, she stood up for us and testified . . . I really can't fall apart right now . . .”

This is an album of sonic textures and dynamics, grit and heart, love and resistance, and the political and the personal. And an arc from anger to acceptance, righteous fury to more personal consideration.

Hard to imagine you could ask much more from them.

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