With slightly increased production values, and an increased vocal role for Carrie Brownstein, Call the Doctor showcases a much-improved Sleater-Kinney. While it suffers from the same malady that kept their debut in bed for a couple days–Second-Half Epstein-Barr–the overall picture is vibrant, powerful, and raw. Leave it to these women, and their irresistible press forging technique, to make punk polemics sound, and feel, fresher than ever.
“Call the Doctor”–Corin and Carrie in our ears on some Angel/Angel shit. The door is ajar. Fuck outta here, I thought it was a door? Call the doctor up and begin to make sense of it. Less than a minute to go, you find out you’ve been discretely fitted with an ICD. These corrective shocks will be felt throughout the album.
“Hubcap”–My SK-lovin‘ buddy Trick once filled up several pages of a notepad with a song-by-song grading of each album. Most songs scored “A,” many others scored “A+,” and I think there may have been an “A-” somewhere. Therefore, the “C+” he stuck beside “Milkshake N Honey” (as featured on All Hands on the Bad One) jutted out toward mine eye like an unwelcome tumescence.
“My dude! How?” He replied with some mumbly poo about how it dragged on and just wasn’t very enticing to the ear at all, and he even used the word “turgid,” except he didn’t, because he doesn’t know what that word means.
“There are worse songs in their catalog then that,” I protested. “Easy.” Challenged, I had a ready reply.
“Hubcap” is the insomnia anthem of our age. Super soporific. Lora’s drums and backing vocals both bore me thick. The refrain is crap: “You’re my co-pilot/Not my god pilot.” It’s like they got hung up on the phrase “God is my co-pilot” one day and thought they’d turned a neat enough trick to put it in a song. They didn’t.
“Little Mouth”–Bratty Carrie, brattier Corin. This was made for screaming, be it while by yourself or by yourself in a crowd. Cocksucker tease blues, only one dare necessary, one day it’ll all turn around. One woman is every woman, whether she wants to be or not. Sleater-Kinney relish the reality.
“Anonymous”–Anonymity, I feel, is for the shitbirds. Brown-winged and scared to fly. Do any of you freaks remember 1996? Remember when no-name nuts had no realm to disgrace other than the letters section of the newspaper? Remember letters and newspapers? Fuck, I feel like my mom reminiscing on the Fireside Chats. Anonymity by force or choice, we’re talking about the extermination of identity and that’s a weak move to me. To me. Own it or lose it, I say.
(Incidentally, Lora Macfarlane’s best drumming is featured on this song.)
“Stay Where You Are”–Still figuring out how to fit their dogs with invisible leashes. Carrie rides the guitars with a supreme queen poker face, while her insides–you know–just have to be breakdancing on tidal waves under a firework-blemished sky.
“Good Things”–The most heart-pulverizing track in their discography, least till they get back together (oh stop, it’s as inevitable as Charlie Brown’s failure). The guitars are the shoulder for Corin to soak with tears, ’cause it does not doubt to resist the pain.
A near-flawless reflection on the impact one person can make on your life. Self-aware yet self-assured (“It’s a dumb song/But I’ll write it anyway.”) Corin certainly could have “sung better” on “Good Things,” but why? Her performance, all flay and flutter, personifies the keen sting of regret.
“I Wanna Be Yr Joey Ramone”–Listen to this fuckin’ thing, here; all slipping and sliding around the edges of the kitchen counter, discretely snatchin’ some donut holes (who left the box out?!) and eatin’ ’em ducky-style. Mainly Corin’s baby, but Carrie is practically a sound effect on the chorus.
What does it all mean, PSK? Does the female protagonist want to be a male idol because the guys get to have all the fun and attention and glory? Or because the dudes get all the pussy? All I know for sure, this was the first time Sleater-Kinney’s music came to my attention, and it was pretty much down to the Thurston Moore namedrop. Well done.
“Taking Me Home”–Pissed women and the men who piss on them. Punk-drenched distress funky fresh dressed to aggress, ready to crash the party. “I got me mixed up with somebody else.”
“Taste Test”–Lora sings sweet under Corin, while Carrie tries to have the hostages freed by confusing their captor. It worked, I guess, ’cause I didn’t remember seeing a news story stating otherwise. Lyrics are circuitous, the music less so.
“My Stuff”–In the immortal words of George Carlin, “Have you ever noticed how other peoples stuff is ‘shit,’ and your shit is ‘stuff’?” The best crafted song on Call the Doctor, but not the best, and not even top three, really.
“I’m Not Waiting”–Stoic to start, permitting Corin to set certain terms. “I’m not waiting till I grow up to be a woman.” Rejected music for a parody of 1950s instructional videos. Sleater-Kinney aren’t so much into instruction as direction.
“Heart Attack”–Corin plays drums, Lora plays guitar. It shows.
There’s a line here, “Walking into your house, cause I really want to figure you out,” that resonates with me. I don’t drive or bike, so I have ample opportunity to walk by homes that, especially in this nice weather, have open windows and doors. I only get to peek for a second, just long enough to catch a couch, a blaring TV, a table covered with…what is all that exactly? Who lives here? What’s their story? I am about stories, ’cause everybody on Earth has at least three in their pocket at all times. Some of which will outlive the one who wears the pants.
That’s not Carrie’s angle here, though. This is hypochondria in bloom as a lethargic two-step towards the unimaginable. “Stress case undone/Preplanned, no fun.” Everything makes our molecules come up short, everything clogs our arteries, everyone is out to get us, no one cares but you, nobody lives forever.
Call the Doctor signified progression without compromise. It was clear that Sleater-Kinney could go even farther. They just had to want it.