Classic Album Review: Sleater-Kinney – The Hot Rock

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Artist: Sleater-Kinney

Album: The Hot Rock

Genre: Alternative Rock/Indie Rock

Release Date: 02/23/99

Rating: 8.5/10

It’s mind blowing to think that 1999 was 20 years ago. It feels like just yesterday people were bumping “Limp Bizkit,” wearing “Austin 3:16” T-shirts, and stocking up on bottled water and canned food for Y2K. Yes, those are all outdated references, but there are timeless gems that occurred in 1999 that remain relevant. One of those gems is Sleater-Kinney’s fourth album The Hot Rock. Sleater-Kinney in my opinion are one of the greatest “Rock & Roll” bands in music history. Emerging from the “Riot Grrrl” movement of the early 90’s, an impactful movement that utilized the aggressive spirit of “Punk Rock” to take down misogyny and toxic masculinity with a feministic ethos, “Sleater-Kinney” consisted of members of pre-existing “Riot Grrrl” bands such as “Heavens to Betsy” and “Excuse 17.” After three incredible albums that garnered much attention for their raucous and thought provoking styles, “Sleater-Kinney” went in a different direction in 1999 for their fourth album The Hot Rock. After turning down record deal offers from numerous major labels to remain on the label “Kill Rock Stars,” the band went in a more mellow and melodic direction with The Hot Rock. Though some tracks still featured that raw and cutting style, the bulk of the album is gloomier with lyrical content that focuses more on personal themes such as failed relationships and personal uncertainty. The instrumentation is among some of the band’s finest work. The guitar and vocal interplay between members Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein is truly unique, something that is a prominent element in the band’s sound. The Hot Rock was also the second album to feature Janet Weiss on drums, who replaced original drummer Lora MacFarlane. Weiss’ drum work added a more complex structure to the percussive side of the band, and her drumming on The Hot Rock is utterly distinct, subtle but hard-hitting, and the backdrop she provides for Tucker and Bownstein’s technical and at times off-kilter guitar interplay is something only she can do. With the oblique nature of the guitar work and even the incorporation of violin on the tracks “The Size Of Our Love” and “Memorize Your Lines,” and even the melodica that outros the closing track “A Quarter to Three,” it’s evident that the band wanted to branch out of the simplistic conventions affiliated with “Punk Rock.” They wanted to showcase their instrumental talent as well as the lyrical content. Up until The Hot Rock, the band were primarily known for their meaningful and revolutionary lyrical content that often spoke out against misogyny, societal norms, and gender roles. There were however songs that touched on sentimental themes such as relationships and internal struggle, and The Hot Rock delves more into those themes. The unfortunate heartbreak that occurs when a relationship ends, or the feeling of uncertainty that can even be the resulting frustration of the unfair societal norms the band rails against, these themes introduced us to the gloomier side of the band, and it was just as impactful as their raucous side. “You say “Sink or swim,” what a cruel, cruel phrase. I’d rather fly,” sings Brownstein on the track “The End of You” where the band confidently rises above the enticement of money and the superficiality of the entertainment business, which could allude to their dismissal of major labels. Even though this album is more introspective, it isn’t without it’s content that looks outward. “God is a Number” spoke on how technology was becoming immensely dominant and our reliance on it was inevitable, which in retrospect is frightening how right they were given our technology-driven nature of today. The following track “Banned From The Edge Of The World” spoke on the ridiculousness of the Y2K scare. “I’ve no millennial fear. The future is here. It comes every year,” Tucker and Brownstein sing fearlessly. Moments like these conveyed the fearlessness of the band, but it’s also the sentimental tracks that cut like a knife. The line “Our love is the size of these tumors inside us” on the track “The Size Of Our Love” speaks on the uncertainty of a relationship or marriage and how they can become stagnant, which leads to the helpless feeling of wanting the relationship to work but but deep down knowing  it has a vast potential to get much worse. The personal feeling of uncertainty on much of these tracks is something we can all relate to, and that combined with topical worldviews, backed by an ambitious focus on instrumentation, it was clear that the band were making the music they wanted to make, and that is incredibly inspirational. The Hot Rock arrived at the perfect time. The album’s instrumentation, honest content, and DIY aesthetic precursed the “Indie Rock” explosion of the early 2000’s. “Sleater-Kinney” have given us a lot to be thankful for.

Sleater-Kinney

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 02/23/19

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