There's a Riot Going On
You couldn't exactly call the early days of riot-grrrl joyless. They were often funny, utterly alive, and blessed with a rebellious spirit that was eternally lively and provocative. But, at times, there was a sense of the movement being the good fight, something worthy, something serious. Those sloganeering songs, sloppy musicianship, and fuzzy audio fidelity were deliberately divisive; the music was a either-you're-with-us-or-against-us proposition.
By 1997, when Sleater-Kinney were authoring their third album, Dig Me Out, riot-grrrl was no longer a flourishing movement. Its moment had passed: glossy mags were running idiotic 'women in rock' photo-spreads, contrived prefab pop hags the Spice Girls were peddling something branded as 'Girl Power,' and the once-tightly-knit community of riot-grrrl bands were being absorbed into the greater indie-rock culture. If riot-grrrl wasn't effectively dead, Dig Me Out effectively killed it; in the best way imaginable.
Dig Me Out wasn't divisive, but unifying. It was sharply-played, brightly-recorded, and brilliantly conceived. Its songs weren't snotty punk knock-offs, but complex compositions in which the dueling guitars of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker parried, pirouetted, clanged, and clashed. It was the sound of a band coming of age, seizing their moment, and making something colossally awesome. It was an album that was a sheer, unadulterated joy to listen to.
In 1997, at a time in which the alterna-crossover bubble had burst, and major labels were cutting their losses in a post-Nirvana climate, Dig Me Out came out and took riot-grrrl —or whatever was left of it— to the masses. It was Sleater-Kinney's unstoppable breakout album, taking them from the cult corner of the Pacific Northwest to international acclaim. Tucker and Brownstein had helped birthed riot-grrrl in Heavens to Besty and Excuse 17, but now they were bringing to a close. Sleater-Kinney were, now, too big, too brilliant a band to be confined to a small, strictly-underground movement.
You Make Me Feel Like Dance Song ('97)
What set Dig Me Out apart from its equally-awesome predecessor, 1996's Call the Doctor, was just how anthemic it sounded. "Little Babies" and "Words and Guitar" proudly flew a singalong flag (the former boasting a "dum dum dee dee dee dum dum dee dum do" refrain; the latter evoking rock'n'roll mythicism via its most elemental elements), with Tucker's ferocious vocal tamed to something resembling a sweet coo.
Beyond that, "One More Hour" and "Dance Song '97" up the artistic ante; keeping the same melodic insistency whilst dodging anything resembling simplicity. "One More Hour" is three utterly-thrilling minutes of frenetic guitars, overlapping vocals, and emotional bloodletting; in which Brownstein's six-string agitato and Tucker's vocal-cord vibrato turn harmonic counterpoints into uneasy sources of tension. There's less composed conflict in "Dance Song '97," which enlists washes of analog organ and blinks of tuned percussion to outfit its insistent, persistent, most-toe-tapping polyrhythms.
Lyrically, Tucker and Brownstein use the band as a prism to speak about relationships: "Dance Song" dancing away a break-up, feeling the end of the affair as strongly as the compulsion of rhythm; "It's Enough" playing with the intimate connection between the singer and listener as a form of intimacy; "Words and Guitar" about the song seducing both singer and listener, in turn.
An album that shows that its authors can only see their world —or, even, the world— as an extension of their band is usually not one to recommend; think the standard 'difficult second album' and its predictable laments about life on the road, the price of fame, et al. Yet, here, Sleater-Kinney make a suspect idea inspired. Tucker and Brownstein use their relationship, both personal and musical, to explore it in different thematic guises: women as lovers, women as rivals, women as sparring partners, women resigned to a break-up.
Sleater-Kinney were founded on that relationship, literally: the two had dated in the band's early days, and, though they remained firm friends and proud bandmates when they went their separate ways, the were processing the emotions thereof in songs sung with —and, in many ways, to— the other.
This makes Dig Me Out feel intimate even when it's anthemic, personal even when it's political, and easy-to-love even when it's ornery. It's an album that sounds as grand, in this day, two decades removed from the riot-grrrl revolution, as it did back in its day, back when Sleater-Kinney took their music and made it the world's.
Record Label: Kill Rock Stars
Release Date: April 8, 1997