Much of Sleater-Kinney's new album "No Cities to Love" (Sub Pop) -- the first since the trio called it quits in 2006 -- seems dedicated to the question: How did this happen?
The album's existence is a shock, after all, with the band's recording it in secret last year and announcing it after its completion. Singer-guitarist Corin Tucker had her own band. Singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss formed their band Wild Flag when Brownstein had some time off from becoming a counterculture comedy star on IFC's "Portlandia" with pal Fred Armisen. They were all doing well going their separate ways, so what exactly is going on here?
"We win, we lose," they belt in "Surface Envy," which somehow amplifies the Sleater-Kinney sound of jagged guitars and punk drumming to include elements of both Heart and New Order. "Only together do we break the rules." In the charmingly pointy "A New Wave," they confide, "It's not a new wave, it's just you and me."
And on the relentless "Price Tag," they sing, "I was lured by the devil. I was lured by the cause. I was lured by the fear that all we had was lost."
Maybe it's because of the successes they found in their time apart, but Sleater-Kinney sounds more confident and accomplished than ever -- a real feat considering their riot grrl roots. There's a grandeur on "Hey Darling," an early song-of-the-year candidate that covers Brownstein's anxieties about being onstage, showing that the trio hasn't been standing still over the past nine years.
And that's good because way more people are watching now -- something very clear in the star-studded video for the title track of "No Cities to Love", which includes everyone from Armisen and Andy Samberg to Norman Reedus of "The Walking Dead" singing along with the song. Luckily, Sleater-Kinney is more than ready.
THE GRADE A