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'The Center Won't Hold' review: Sleater-Kinney's bold statement for loud times


Sleater-Kinney's "The Center Won't Hold" on Mom + Pop Records. Credit: Mom + Pop Records


The Center Won’t Hold

BOTTOM LINE The post-punk feminists return with a wild ride of politics and pop-leaning choruses.

Sleater-Kinney has always been unpredictable and their tenth album “The Center Won’t Hold” (Mom + Pop) continues that fine tradition.

Though the album was recorded as a trio, drummer Janet Weiss abruptly left the band in July, leaving Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker as a duo. Oddly enough, the unexpected departure feeds into the album’s sense of wariness, though ever the post-punk feminists Sleater-Kinney seems ready to fight through it.

They are at their best in the powerful “Can I Go On,” where Brownstein declares with growing agitation, “Everyone I know is tired. Everyone I know is wired to machines. It’s obscene. I’ll just scream til it don’t hurt no more.”

It’s a great preamble to a catchy pop song that has as its sweet, sing-along chorus, “Maybe I’m not sure I wanna go on at all.” It’s nihilism you can dance to!

Of course, that’s not the only surprise Sleater-Kinney has up its sleeves. With the help of producer St. Vincent, the band tries all sorts of new styles and stretches the spiky rock that it is known for.

“Restless” starts out like the sludgy punk cousin to Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car” before turning into a dark confessional about learning “to love the ugliest things.” The menacing backdrop of “Ruins,” with its snarling synths and trap beats, makes the seemingly benevolent chant of “Gonna leave the light on for you” sound scary. Once they move on to a command of “Eat the weak and devour the sane,” it becomes both disturbing and irresistible.

Even more harrowing, though, is the simple piano ballad “Broken,” which Sleater-Kinney dedicates to Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. “She stood up for us when she testified,” Tucker sings, before admitting, “I’m breaking in two.”

“The Center Won’t Hold” is a bold statement for loud times, but also shows the power of being vulnerable.

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