Knocking David Bowie firmly into touch by pulling off what is surely pop’s greatest ever come back announcement, Sleater-Kinney‘s eighth album has been eagerly anticipated since the whispers began back in October.
Nearly a decade after their split, Sub Pop released a beautiful vinyl box set reissue of the Seattle trio’s seven albums; an amazing release for any fan. But hidden away inside was something altogether more exciting; an unmarked seven inch with “1/20/2015” etched onto its label. Those who played it first took to social media. Its first airings on the world wide web came courtesy of a mobile phone film of someone’s record player blasting out this new, unheard and utterly brilliant NEW song. We now know it as Bury Your Friends, which became available as a free download soon after, along with two announcements; a tour, which sees them visit our shores in March, and an album. Out on – you guessed it – 1/20/15.
Bury Our Friends was the perfect track to push out to test the water. It’s thrilling in its urgency; anthemic like a bloodthirsty battle call, they announced their return with what is one of their best ever tracks. The whole thing was a massive gamble – this is a band who arguably split at their peak, before they had time to become stale, despite 12 years and seven albums. We say arguably because Sleater-Kinney are one of those bands whose peak we could debate all day, and then some. They didn’t do fillers; they were a band with enough energy, passion and emotion to fill out every last second. Born to the riot grrrl scene, they developed a sound that was a tighter, more sophisticated, post rock version of their peers’, who traded on a looser, more chaotic punk set-up. As a band they had their ups and downs; internal relationship woes inspired some of their more wistful, tender moments, but No Cities To Love sees them firmly in top gear, flying through 20 songs in 30 minutes.
Amazingly, those songs sound exactly like Sleater-Kinney, just a bit better. Corin Tucker’s distinctive yelp is as goosebump-inducing as ever, Carrie Brownstein – or the girl from Portlandia as she might be better known now – sounds even more glossy yet kick ass, stabbing at Janet Weiss’s crazed drums. It’s a relief to discover that they’ve not played it safe; there’s plenty of space allowed for experimentation, and its sheer ferocity gives them an edge beyond even what they’d achieved before.
Their acerbic lyricism is there in abundance – opener Pricetag takes a sideways swipe at consumer culture and the daily grind. Fade is a metal thrash-out that allows Brownstein the jam time she’s seemed to be craving by the end of Sleater-Kinney take one; New Wave sees them run at riot grrrl harder than they ever have done before, while Hey Darling and Surface Envy have irresistible, wild-eyed choruses. The uptempo focus is like a fuse of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone with Little Babies and You’re No Rock n Roll Fun, and while completists might bemoan the lack of more inward thinking, contemplative tracks, the remarkable thing about No Cities To Love is that it doesn’t sound like a new record – it sounds like a best of from their 12 years together.
Somehow, from nothing, they’ve pulled off a surprising but oh so welcome return, and this record plays like a triumphant middle finger salute, coolly showing everyone how its done… and writing the first line on a thousand ‘album of the year’ lists before January’s even out.