Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won’t Hold - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won’t Hold

by Brian Thompson Rating:8 Release Date:2019-08-16
Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won’t Hold
Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won’t Hold

Sleater-Kinney have never been a band to look toward the past. While many of their peers who also emerged from the heyday of alternative rock can’t quite escape the formula that brought them success in the 90s, the Washington punk rock trio are constantly looking toward the future. With the help of producer Annie Clark (aka. St. Vincent), The Center Won’t Hold has no time for nostalgia, a fractured gem that serves as a glowing argument for Sleater-Kinney’s place in contemporary rock. 

The Center Won’t Hold continuously finds unity within its disjointed chaos. Right off the bat, the record announces that it will be exploring a host of different sounds. The back-to-back-to-back progression of the album’s first three songs feel as though they were plucked from wildly different periods in the band’s life, from the exasperated angst of cluttered, industrial "The Center Won't Hold" to the busy, disco beat of screeching "Hurry On Home" to mid-tempo new wave, electropop stinger "Reach Out," a track that loudly boasts producer Annie Clark’s thumbprint. And yet, it all somehow makes sense. There’s a steady flow to the record that defies conventional logic. 

Of course, Sleater-Kinney have maintained many of the sonic elements that made them so compelling in the first place, most notably on the classic, late 90s alt-rock ballad "Restless." It’s an album highlight that shows the band at their finest (“My heart wants the ugliest things / But I learned to love the ugliest things”). However, most of the record finds them exploring—and, frankly, excelling at—new musical territory. We see their prowess as a capital-R capital-B Rock Band on the buzzing, arena-ready gradual build of "Ruins" and pulsating room-filler "The Future Is Here," but the other side of the coin shows off their playful, peppy side on the clap back dance groove of "Bad Dance" and the steady, bouncy flow of "Can I Go On." 

Throughout The Center Won’t Hold, it feels increasingly clear which albums Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss were listening to when they were molding each track. The mechanical title track is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, while the keytar chic of “Love” bears traces of Devo and The Cars. It’s a complex recipe, but one that comes together almost flawlessly. That is, up until its final moments. The album closes on the lackluster piano confessional "Broken," a slow jam that’s not without its potency, but feels awkwardly out of place. Even when the rest of the album veers off in different directions, there’s always something to tie it back to the original thesis. But “Broken” seems to have come from an entirely different planet, and as such, it falls completely flat. 

The Center Won’t Hold boasts plenty of soon-to-be standards that will absolutely slay in a live concert setting, like expansive sing-a-long "The Dog/The Body." This stands amongst Sleater-Kinney’s best work, and that’s no small feat. This is one of the great American punk bands, and it’s endlessly refreshing to see that they are still at the top of their game. Janet Weiss may have left the band after the record was finished to pursue other projects, but Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are undoubtedly going to continue to supply fans with those piercing vocals and tasty guitar licks that keep us coming back for more.

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