Writing well-crafted political rock songs is a task few artists can do. For every eloquent and topical song, there are five ballads that glorify knee-jerk violence in the name of nationalism. On Sleater-Kinney's latest album, One Beat (Kill Rock Stars), the personal and the political coalesce to become one effort of brilliant lyricism that is as intimate as it is comprehensive. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss combine a political and feminist consciousness with incredible and smart rock 'n' roll.
Sleater-Kinney has always been a political band. Many listeners, especially young women, have found a home in their music and the beliefs it espouses. On One Beat, the band is still able to kick our collective asses into action and provide plenty of inspiration. The themes discussed on "Far Away" -- Tucker's reactions to the events of 9/11 and the conservative, unfriendly-to-dissenters environment that resulted from it -- are furthered on the fierce "Combat Rock," on which Brownstein and Tucker alternately sing in determined voices: "Hey look it's time to pledge allegiance/ Oh God I love my dirty uncle Sam/ Our country's marching to the beat now/ And we must learn to step in time." For those of us who don't fit into the paradigm of blind patriotism, lyrics like these are an amazing and rare reflection of our beliefs in the current musical landscape.
"Step Aside," a protest and dance anthem, combines amazing rhythms with calls to action. When Tucker asks in her emotive voice, "These times are trouble, these times are rough/ There's more to come but you can't give up/ Why don't you shake a tail for peace and love?" it's impossible to not be inspired. The album's strongest song, "Sympathy," deals with Tucker's experience of almost losing her newborn son. It asks for help from God, expresses feelings of guilt and ruminates with amazing strength on the universality of death: "There is no righteousness in your darkest moment/ We're all equal in the face of what we're most afraid of."
One Beat is as political as a musical work can get, yet is also full of human emotion. These political anthems are as strong as they are precisely because they are so intimate. The political is personal, and the personal results in amazingly strong feminist takes on the culture we currently inhabit. Sleater-Kinney is a truly great band, and One Beat is their strongest release yet.