COMING UP: Sleater Kinney’s “The Center Won’t Hold”

It’s pretty normal to write this kind of piece with an air of enthusiasm. I’d introduce the band’s remarkable back catalogue, and try to give you a sense of my deep feeling of anticipation for their upcoming release.

This is not that article though, because Sleater-Kinney’s upcoming “The Center Won’t Hold” has me very nervous, and not just because there are hints from the band that it’ll be a step in a new direction. That kind of suggestion always makes me suspicious, but there are two other big red flags for me…

Firstly, this album is produced by St Vincent. I’m not a fan in general, and I’m particularly not keen on the thought of her more processed sound impinging on Sleater Kinney’s cutting guitar and drum tones. Unfortunately single “Can I go on” fits this bill exactly, basing its sound on heavily compressed/ electric sounding drums, and shimmering backing “whoop-whoops” that could have been lifted directly from recent St Vincent releases.

To add to that, Janet Weiss, drummer extraordinaire, who I first came across through my love of Quasi, has left the band just before this album’s release. I’m not going to obsess about the possibility of actual friction with St Vincent or the band as the reason for this, but it doesn’t bode well that this core of the band’s energy has voted with her feet.

It’s precisely because of their amazing past achievements that I’m so nervous, but to be fair, how heavy must that weight feel to them? Not the fickle critical perspectives (which are a little mine), or the fan’s desperate will to have it work out (which are very much mine), but their own assessment of their body of work potentially marred with an album that’s off the boil.

That pressure must be cruel, and for that reason Sleater-Kinney have every right to struggle to ignore it. In that context in fact, all of us doubters should fuck right off and let them really try to re-invent themselves. I’m also reminded that when The Woods came out there were a lot of naysayers (not me though, that time around), but that album has aged really well.

So here’s to me being very wrong, and discovering that The Center Won’t Hold is a bold new leap and that they will land on their feet, not on their faces.

 

Words by Nick Parker.

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