sleaterkinney.jpgEvery band has ’em – the red-headed stepchild of an album. It may work real hard in school, make good grades, help old ladies across the street, but the fact remains that there’s somethin’ peculiar that sticks out about it. And things just never go its way as a result. Thus, The Hot Rock.

Released on the heels of their career making Dig Me Out, the album that would haunt them stylistically until they blew it all away with their swan-song, The Woods, The Hot Rock is a troublesome, dark and thoughtful album. Gone are the out-and-out flailing maelstroms of riot-grrl power pop like “Dig Me Out” and “Words and Guitar.” In their stead, depends.

On the one hand, The Hot Rock doesn’t stray that far from Sleater-Kinney’s earlier albums – think a better produced Call the Doctor. “Living in Exile,” “Burn Don’t Freeze,“Memorize Your Lines” and “One Song For You” all have the sparse, almost awkwardly picked lead lines that had become the band’s stock in trade by this point. I’ll mention (for those who have forgotten or didn’t know in the first place) that Sleater-Kinney crafted their sound without a bass player – just Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s guitars. Where this enabled the band to have a unique sound from the beginning, it was already starting to paint the band into a corner. Subsequent albums would see them striking out in different directions and flailing a bit in each try, ultimately nailing it on The Woods. But here the band’s spartan sound is still a novelty if not a genuine asset.

Continue Reading Sleater-Kinney :: The Hot Rock after the jump….

Now to contradict myself: Sleater-Kinney’s sound was starting to become a roar. In addition to the awesomely surging “God is a Number,” opener “Start Together” is actually a bit of a mislead. It almost sounds as if it could take off in the vein of “Dig Me Out” until the low end of the song kicks in – the dark tones announcing a different album than the band had recorded before. Janet Weiss continues to prove that she was the missing link in the band’s first two albums with her powerhouse drumming. The song is never allowed to take off – reined in each time by a break in tension, guitars dropping out and surging back. The whole song finally winds up on an uncertain, wavering sharp note. And this all paves the way for the title track, the closest thing to a Television ode the band would record. “The Hot Rock” is subdued and immediately undermines the opener’s building, budding exasperation.

Where the band expands or recreates their sound, they succeed swimmingly. “Don’t Talk Like” is Sleater-Kinney’s “Within Your Reach.” Driven by a drum machine, the song’s overtones fit right along the record, even if they wouldn’t end up recording anything else like it again. “A Quarter to Three” is a nodding, foot-tapping closer that plays like the band’s version of Radiohead’s “The Tourist” – a disarming, simple song that ends the record on an odd note of certainty for an album seemingly constructed to undermine that very feeling. “The Size of Our Love” is one of the best songs they would ever write – haunting and tear-jerking in its descriptions of a love being pulled apart by death, the fuzzy, surging bridge is the song’s high point – “Days go by so / slowly / Nights go by so / slowly.” In the number of times I saw the band live, they never played this song and I don’t know if I just wasn’t lucky or if they didn’t play it often. The seemingly personal nature of the song makes it unsurprising if they did eschew it in live settings.

“Get Up” is their lyrical ode to Kim Gordon. Delivered in a mix of spoken-word and singing, the song was the closest thing to a single on the record. (And hey, what do you know? There was a video!) The fevered shouts of “Get up!” in the ending chorus offer a needed moment of release on a record where they are so few and far between. It has always bothered me that the chant repeats only once when the song seems tailor-made for at least a few more repeats. Within the context of the record’s unease however, the song makes sense in a way it never has before.

The Hot Rock seems to show that band realized that Dig Me Out had perfected their original sound and now it was time to go elsewhere. All Hands on the Bad One would seek to grab a hold of poppier elements of indie rock to various degrees of success and One Beat would try their hand at more obvious (but still subversive) political commentary, but both would be missing something. The Hot Rock was the beginning of a three album stretch in the wilderness, one that would net them repeat critical laurels, but from me at least, a growing unease in their ability to make the next step. The Woods would finally resolve that tension and just like “A Quarter to Three” on The Hot Rock, the moment it was resolved, they were gone. – J. Neas


MP3: Sleater-Kinney :: The Size of Our Love
MP3: Sleater-Kinney :: Don’t Talk Like
Amazon: Sleater-Kinney – The Hot Rock

+ Download Sleater-Kinney’s Hot Rock free via eMusic’s 25 free MP3 trial offer

11 Responses to “Sleater-Kinney :: Revisiting The Hot Rock”

  1. Not to mention the absurdity of “hailing” a cab in downtown Portland!

  2. the interesting thing about sleater-kinney is that i’ve met very few people who agree on which albums are good and which albums are not so good and what order they would put them in. i took to calling “all hands on the bad one” simply “the bad one” since it’s my least favorite record with only a handful of songs i like on it. “the hot rock” and “call the doctor” are tied for my #1 position. on release i kind of hated “dig me out” (though i like it a lot more now) and to this day i don’t like “the woods” very much. first record is simply a good example of where they came from and where they were going.

  3. Sounds like Robert doesn’t really like Sleater-Kinney at all.

  4. Oh no, hm, I really like Sleater-Kinney. In fact, I own The Hot Rock and love it.

    I just lived in Portland for 5 years and know you can’t hail a cab in that city – the drivers look at you like you are crazy. (I’m referring to the cover of the Hot Rock, of course)

  5. The girlfriend in high school who introduced me to Sleater-Kinney gave me their first three albums to listen to. I couldn’t take the self-titled (still don’t own it) and liked Call the Doctor more, but then Dig Me Out just blew me away from moment one. My least favorite (aside from the self-titled) is probably One Beat – it just felt like such a re-tread of so much they’d done before. I really like All Hands on the Bad One. But yes, Denise, you’re right. It really does seem to be a thing that varies from person to person.

  6. first off, great post. I also agree with Denise’s comment. I love All Hands On The Bad One, probably my favorite of their releases, with Dig Me Out a close second.

  7. Here are some (non-linear) thoughts from a superfan.

    I like them in this order:

    One Beat
    The Woods
    Dig Me Out
    Call The Doctor
    The Hot Rock

    I like the final 3 because of their attempts to stretch out (in a different way each time) from what they had perfected on Dig Me Out.

    They also became better as a live act at each step along the way.

    This is measuring in higher degrees of awesomeness, because they were a damn great live band when I first saw them in 2000, but were exponentially better each time I saw them including that hot night in Louisville in 2006. And Dig Me Out is an excellent, excellent album.

    I’ll have to find my copy of the Hot Rock and give it another chance. “Get Up” was definitely always a highlight of their live shows…

  8. Always loved The Hot Rock. Great left turn record after the stunning back to back releases of Call The Doctor and Dig Me Out. I miss Sleater-Kinney a lot. Maybe they felt that they had run their course and they certainly went out on top. All I know is that final NYC performance at Webster Hall in August of 2006 was transcendent. It was in the middle of a heat wave, it was well over 100 degrees in the club, and they just played their hearts out. The crowd danced and sang along with every song. It was one of those shows that you never wanted to end.

  9. This is a great post. I loved this album when it came out (I started with Dig Me Out and was in love until the Woods)–and “Get Up” (the vinyl single was awesomely designed) and “The End of You” are still two of my favorite songs.

    The imagery in the latter . . . “build for me your tightest ship . . . ” and the way they conflated how their identity with that of the audience (“I am not the captain/I am just another fan”) is still so awesome.

  10. sleater kinney super fan here

    id rate like this

    1.Hot Rock
    2. Dig Me Out
    3. The Woods
    5. One Beat
    4.Call the Doctor
    6. All Hands on the bad one
    7. S/T

  11. wow… i thought i was the Only one who hated One Beat….

    heres how i break it down:

    Essential (four to five stars):
    Call The Doctor
    (these two had them discovering brilliance, without becoming comfortable, or formulaic)
    The Woods
    (Brilliantly reinvented their sound, while recapturing some of their early energy… it is third best for me)

    Very Good (3 stars):

    Hot Rock (The Size of our love, Start Together, and Hot Rock some of my favorites of theirs)

    Dig Me Out (like most of it, but Janet wont play fast. pretty much throws any idea of punk out the window)

    Skip (2 to 1 star(s)):

    AHOTBO (i only really liked “The Professional” “Was it a Lie?” “Male Model and “The Swimmer”)

    One Beat (“Oh!” “The Remainder” “Light Rail Coyote” and “Sympathy”)

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