Musically, The Hot Rock represented a drop in room temperature. To the consternation of some, the album’s pace was slower overall than that of Dig Me Out; Carrie’s lead lines were more abstract than before, and nearly every track features structural shifts that abruptly halt the pogo wherever it’s stuck. Fans who’d fastened onto the raucous sound of the prior album may have lamented the lack of rave and bubble, but only briefly, because Sleater-Kinney’s zeal is uncompromising as ever.
“Start Together”–The reason SK connected with their fanbase in a way few bands of their era could match is pretty basic: the band understood how crucial feeling connected to something is. It’s a need that crosses every imaginable barrier–race, gender, age, religion, nationality.
Corin is downright sweet-sounding here (think tone, not content) over Carrie’s superbly woven web.
“Hot Rock”–I’ve never seen the 1972 movie of the same name, starring Robert Redford chief amongst others, and I likely never will, just ’cause heist capers don’t intrigue me like that. Resolutely un-punk, but hypnotizing. At a couple minutes in, Carrie’s lead coaxes Janet’s rolls out of the oven. MMMMM.
Trying to follow the lyrics will leave your brain scrambled, blood thickened, eyes crossed and mouth slackened. Not unlike what happens when you eat at Carls Jr., but at least Sleater-Kinney don’t overload you with empty calories.
“The End of You”—Corin took her inspiration from The Odyssey, using the marine navigation metaphor to stand in for the life of a rock band.
SK specialized in introductory riffs uniquely suited to send crowds into a froth, all high-pitched shrieks and arms shot skyward. “Bless me with Athena/There’s no meaner, she’s the best.” The goddess of war, wisdom, strength, justice and the female arts? Uh, yeah. (I’m sure Corin’s partial to the Olympian version of her birth.) A tribute to talent and guts in abundance.
“Burn, Don’t Freeze”—Corin and Carrie demand the listener learn to multi-task over one of the most abstract guitar patterns to bless a Sleater-Kinney wreck-hard. Carrie’s saying more stuff, and although it takes some time to discern, also the more interesting stuff. Listen to this muffucka in headphones and you will agree: salient points made all round.
“God Is a Number”— The observation that numbers and equations are insidiously replacing letters and reason as the preferred mode of communication between bipeds is so obvious that even Christians agree. It’s all John 2:11 that, and Corinthians 8:22, right?
This is not the song you play to get people into Sleater-Kinney. They will run screaming from the chorus, and leap right out the nearest rattling window.
“Banned From the End of the World”—Anyone who lived through the millennial hysteria of 1999 can attest to how annoying it all was. Y2K! Computers are going to kill us all, planes will plummet from the sky and anarchy will reign! Philip K. Dick, the rumors are true! Except none of that. I thought humanity couldn’t get anymore ridiculous in my lifetime but well, 2012 is only a year away. “Party without fear,” ah, tis only a sweet dream. One of the happiest guitar parts they ever conjured up, too.
“If you want it, I’ll come right over.” Oh you do that.
“Don’t Talk Like”–Sad. As hell. Except with walls of blue flame, not orange or red. Corin sounds mournful as a widow, and Carrie’s playing is infused with intensely focused invention to keep the tears from abandoning their ducts and leaving tell-tale trails.
One of their most overlooked songs, and maybe the best guitar tone on any of their tracks as well.
“Get Up”–Corin Tucker is Luna Lovegood directing a Wrackspurts porno flick. Should be incorrigible and twisted, but isn’t, thanks to AD Janet Weiss as Hermione Granger’s insistence on logic. When the title comes, it’s exhilarating not because of some key change or speed bump, but because it feels like a natural conclusion.
“One Song For You”–I’d much rather hear Carrie get sexual than Corin, for a few reasons. Even when Ms. Tucker takes over the chorus, I’m still stuck on Carrie’s subtle come-on. Another neglected gem from this album.
“The Size of Our Love”–Uncomfortable, but touching, from the opening line introducing us to the cancer-ridden lovers and taking us each agonizing step to the end of all ends.
“I’ll die in this room/If you die in this room.”
The addition of violin is as tasteful as you’d hope with a song of this nature.
“Living in Exile”–Living a lie, more like. An Ice Queen in search of heat after a shattering abandonment. It’s quite Buddhist, really. Nothingness is everything. Melt away, back into the earth. Sounds same-y by now, which is not a complaint. Most of the riffs on the album would have no trouble making Fred Schneider do the Monkey whilst gripping a cowbell.
“Memorize Your Lines”–Good grief, more love in shambles? More violin? What’s love got to do with it though? Humanoids more often than not prevaricate on instinct, spew bull even when the truth would save the day. The best actors are sociopaths, and if sociopaths are people who never learned the basic societal functions, who’s to say someone couldn’t unlearn those functions as well?
“A Quarter To Three”–The chorus has never not reminded me of “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders, fronted by noted Riot Grrl negator Chrissie Hynde. (For all her bluster, I couldn’t help but agree when Hynde voiced in an interview exactly how writing PUSSY POWER on your abdomen signalled revolution. But.) Carrie sounds like a stripped-down Chrissie at scattered points throughout SK’s discography, so the evocation may not be coincidental.