Sleater-Kinney's "The Center Won't Hold" Is 90s Rock For the Future

Sleater-Kinney's "The Center Won't Hold" Is 90s Rock For the Future

After announcing drummer Janet Weiss' departure, the riot-grrl staple gets a fresh twist thanks to its collaboration with Annie Clark (St. Vincent.)

After announcing drummer Janet Weiss' departure, the riot-grrl staple gets a fresh twist thanks to its collaboration with Annie Clark (St. Vincent.)

Text: Brooke Kushwaha

Like most trends from the 90s, Sleater-Kinney is back. The indie rock group has released their final LP with drummer Janet Weiss, The Center Won’t Hold, tapping into the production knowledge of Annie Clark (St. Vincent!!!) for a fresh, millennial twist. The project follows up their 2015 comeback LP, No Cities to Love. Carrie Brownstein, one of the band’s frontwoman, had become better known among the younger generation for her role on hipster-skewering skit show Portlandia, but the newest album proves she still has her rocker roots. 

Corin Tucker, who first formed Sleater-Kinney with Brownstein back in 1994, commented to Exclaim about working with St. Vincent on the 11-track LP about the new ideas she brought to the band. 

“We did it more as an experiment, but she was really amazing,” Tucker said. “She had so many ideas. She was really prepared. We got four songs done in five days — like, core songs of the album. She has a really different skillset from Carrie and I. She has all of this knowledge about synthesizers and has made music in different ways. And she’s also a writer and a singer, so she brings a lot of different skills to producing that was fruitful and brought out new ideas from the band.”

This is the band’s 10th album, and shortly before its release Sleater-Kinney announced Weiss would be leaving the group. Weiss is reportedly the member who suggested to work with St. Vincent in the first place, prompting an unexpected (but very welcome) meeting-of-the-minds. 

“Annie is a very creative, innovative person who's a fan of the band, but we also thought she was someone who could reconstitute the tools in our band,” Brownstein added in the same interview.

The Center Won’t Hold is a strong continuation of Sleater-Kinney’s legacy as one of the best bands of the 21st century. Drawing from the riot-grrrl movement of mid 1990s, the group has managed to surpass its original sound while still keeping its indie rock foundation. The title track mixes traditional 90s punk vocals with a grungier, industrial electronic production—rock with a metallic sheen. After an eerie, decidedly St. Vincent-y intro, the song explodes into classic punk bombast as if to announce: This is something new, but something familiar. 

Left to right: Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.

Sleater-Kinney’s 2010s comeback arrives a key cultural moment where nearly every female artist is touting some form of feminist empowerment in their music. By reminding listeners of an era when girl power was a radical fringe rather than pop mainstream, Sleater-Kinney grounds its message in authenticity and reclaims its title as a breakout act for female musicians. However, life is very different now than it was in 1994, and the band’s lyrics and frustrations reflect that. “Can I Go On” details mid-life fatigue in the time of social media and handheld technology. 

“Everyone I know is tired / Everyone I know is wired / To machines, it's obscene / I'll just scream 'til it don't hurt no more,” the opening lyrics groan, speaking to the endless stimulation (and resulting numbness) of the Internet age. 

St. Vincent’s influence peppers itself throughout the album, especially in tracks like “RUINS,” which rely on heavy synths and an electric rumble equally at home on a Billie Eilish song as a 90s rock staple. At five minutes long, the track is significantly longer than the average punk song, giving the production more room to travel and experiment. Meanwhile, the two-minute follow-up, LOVE, is a refreshing and energetic return-to-form, more hopeful than its predecessors, reveling in the ecstatic possibilities of punk rather than just its moodier moments. 

The band has never shied away from political statement, and the revealing title The Center Won’t Hold is no exception. With party lines dividing at an alarming rate and each pole driving more and more extreme, The Center Won’t Hold feels like an ominous portent of what’s to come— a national and personal internal breakdown. The end of the world has been a prominent theme in indie girl rock as of late, partially because of its frightening imminence, partially because of its potential for metaphor. “Bad Dance” encourages listeners to ride (or rather, dance) into the sunset with abandon, leaving the deteriorating world behind. 

Whether or not Sleater-Kinney continues without Weiss, their mark on rock music will go down in history even as it forges into the present. As the group said it themselves, “The future is here, and we can’t go back.” Sleater-Kinney is only moving forward. We’re the ones who need to catch up. 

Listen to The Center Won't Hold on Spotify here:

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