The great advantage that Carrie Brownstein and company had going into ‘No Cities to Love’, was 10 years between albums. A stockpile of material that could be written, broken down, and rebuilt. And then over, and over, and over again. To add fuel to the amazing fire that created ‘No Cities to Love’ Carrie was part of the hit show Portlandia. An outlet that I would argue brought incredibly weird lyrics to her songwriting like ‘Throw me a rope, give me a leg /I haven’t seen daylight in what must be day’ (Surface Envy), or ‘I scramble eggs/For little legs/The day’s off in a rush’(Price Tag). Which in many ways was awkward yet refreshing. Many artists struggle to find that line. Opinion: Not sure if finding that ‘line’ draws from the same creative spaces in Carrie’s mind, but for me, it struck the same chord as that of watching Portlandia. Here’s the thing. As great as ‘No Cities’ was, ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ took those ‘shapes’ in strides.
‘No Cities’ in a lot of aspects was a reset for the band, meaning the following album would resemble that of a sophomore album. Most bands struggle with that sophomore album, but Sleater-Kinney signs-seals-then delivers on all fronts. Bands worry about sounding too much like a previous album, or not enough. Bands worry about talking about the same topics over and over again or trying to add to a particular thought in the past. And bands worry about trying to not sound like everyone else but pay respects to their influences. Contrary to the album title. Sleater-Kinney shoots right down ‘the center’. And that’s what makes this album so great. There are hints from previous album themes, with new twists. Similar sounds or riffs, but bolder without sounding to overbearing. And able to give a nod to past artists while rolling full steam ahead.
Here are some examples:
-‘No Cities’ has the Mantra-esque title track repeating ‘There ain’t no cities to love’ over and over again. Relating love and the aspects of everyday places that remind them of the past relationship.
– ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ does the same with catchy and head-bopping power chords. Drawing comparisons to wanting to feel loved but that the people won’t give the support she needs.
– Carrie admitted in a recent interview her new affection for late 80’s band Depeche Mode.
– ‘Reach Out’ draws at least two similar words and guitar riffs from Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ chorus. A subtle nod to the past while delivering a solid song.
In sum, this was a great sophomore album in follow up to ‘No Cities’. ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ is the fun example of why we all wish we were in an All Women band. Quirky lyrics. A semi-clean/semi-rough sound. And a plethora of examples of why we don’t need no man to get us through the day.
Try tracks: ‘The Center Won’t Hold’, ‘Can I Go On’, and ‘RUINS’.