In search of a context: Sleater-Kinney, POLO G, Garbage, Rufus Wainwright

Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness

What Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein think of fan response to Janet Weiss’ uncivil departure matters less than the murmuring from a fan base that based on my experience would’ve moved on–if it were any other band.

However, three decades of a matchless career free of embarrassment proved impervious to the accusations of cynicism and bad faith; it’s as if we had convinced ourselves Sleater-Kinney weren’t like other bands, didn’t succumb to the internal, dull politics of other bands. If another band with their pedigree had released Path of Wellness, they might’ve gotten praise for the consistent intelligence of the songs and the tastefulness of the guitar parts. But I don’t listen to Sleater-Kinney for taste; “intelligence” is harder to quantify, but the shrewdness with which their older songs exploded and made up persuaded me to get beyond my attraction to how this material came over as pure pulverizing sound.

Self-produced but not noticeably so, Path of Wellness has several permanent S-K moments: the growling menace of and chord change in “Tomorrow’s Grave”; Brownstein and Tucker imbuing the verses, “It’s not the summer we were promised/It’s the summer that we deserve” from “Down the Line” with the mismatched harmonic complementizing that unsettles confidence in any bromides; the Wurlitzer garnishes and the prominence of Bill Athens’ bass on “Favorite Neighbor”; the fuzz tones on Brownstein’s guitar everywhere. But go-nowhere moments like the opening title track, vacant pseudo-pop punk like “Method” and “Worry with You,” the posturing “Complex Female Characters” — they aim for simplicity but come off banal, which Sleater-Kinney never were.

To fool around with classic rock verities, as Tucker and Brownstein averred in the interview hyperlinked above, should surprise no one who has followed a band whose lead guitarist would pull off Townshend windmills onstage; but the fooling around happens on the surface, an applying of similar tints on different sections of the canvas. The material isn’t thought through. Forget whoever sits behind the kit: it’s Corin Tucker who sounds enervated. While I get she may no longer have the stamina to howl, her “regular” singing voice is a bore. Now that I can make out the lyrics, there isn’t much going on besides the by now rote observations about being a workaday rock band. Thing is, I loved 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold as much any album in their catalog: having rock ‘n’ roll fun with St. Vincent’s new wave varnish, the trio found new ways for queer-identifying middle-aged musicians to startle listeners the way they startle themselves. I thought The Woods (2005) their dullest album: the first time they relied on reflexes. I stand corrected.

POLO G – Hall of Fame

“Been drownin’ in my sorrows, but hopefully I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” Taurus Bartlett raps on his third album, the most entertaining mainstream stars-plus hip-hop album since Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake. The guests do what you’d expect at a party: gratify by their presence, contribute to the general hilarity, do not get out of hand with the Tito’s. As usual women confuse him: he uses “Demi Lovato” as shorthand for Percocet on the solid Roddy Ricch collab “Fame & Riches” and lets Rod Wave denounce the black heart of another on “Heart of a Giant,” but laments on “So Real” what the lifestyle’s done to his son’s mother. With its piano trills and guitar loops, Hall of Fame is a pretty drill album, especially when harrowing tales like “Bloody Canvas” benefit from the tension.

Garbage – No Gods No Masters

For years this quartet faltered as it searched for an appropriate pop context in which to continue its fascination with the expressive possibilities of goth. 2016’s Strange Little Birds had some of the old magpie magic; No Gods No Masters is the full comeback, my Pitchfork review explains.

Rufus Wainwright – Poses

(Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)

I wrote an essay on Rufus Wainwright’s second and best album for Stereogum on the occasion of Poses‘ twentieth anniversary.

3 thoughts on “In search of a context: Sleater-Kinney, POLO G, Garbage, Rufus Wainwright

  1. I hope you give another good listen to Path of Wellness (but I’m an outlier when it comes to this band because I think their best album is The Center Won’t Hold and their second best is this one. No apologies.) Lyrics are as timely and relevant as anything I’ve heard this year. Grooves. Hooks. Vocal deliveries putting the in-vogue whispers and auto-tuners to shame. And, hey, this new drummer ain’t bad!)

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