No Cities To Love is technically my first Sleater-Kinney album, not counting their 1994 debut that I listened to a few months ago. It’s not out of blatant ignorance. Like everyone, I’ve got those bands that you just never find yourself in an opportunity to appreciate. That might make me the perfect candidate for this review though, not just as a bridging point into Kinney-dom but the unique position of having no previous expectations for No Cities To Love other than the actual band’s reputation. As a debut album this would be an excellent album. As a 1st album in 10 years? Just sublime.
Bold words, but there’s a strong likelihood that we won’t be remembering this as just another reunion album. The band (comprised of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss) have even said in previous interviews that No Cities To Love was written as if it was a debut album and it’s easy to see why. When most bands come back to release their first record in a decade or decades it turns out feeling more like a bad parody designed to wring a bit more money out of those evergreen fans, even when it only happens 10 years after initially reforming. That’s definitely noy the case here.
Besides, there’s no room for any sentimentality in album opener Price Tag, with a wry take of mundanity and consumer culture in our austerity-led society, making sure to never to directly refer to a particular time. Weiss’s drum beats pierce through your ear drums on your equally mundane commute to work and Tucker’s equally ferocious vocals interspersed with Brownstein’s lovely guitar work immediately grabs your attention and sets the tone for the album’s half hour running time. This isn’t a band coming back together after 10 years for one last payday. This is a band with unfinished business, back in a music world where sometimes it feels like equality has barely moved forward since they started.
I mean, you could take about the sound of the album itself but my impression is certainly that it’s very in spirit of Sleater-Kinney’s past work and the continuation of the punk sound that the band started with before really honing their craft in alternative rock. (I hate using that phrase, but then describing sound itself is all one big con most of the time!)
The short running time is used to its full potential, getting straight to the point, not holding back and in its lyrics continuing to challenge dated attitudes in rock and beyond. Despite its leanings in the fight for equality, No Cities To Love is hardly an album of anguish though. If anything the music is encouraging and positive. It’s 2015 and while there’s still a lot left to be done, there’s plenty of us out there and together we can change things for the better. It’s certainly a theme in songs like Bury Your Friends, Surface Envy and the title track and is prevalent through the album too. Only Fade, the album’s suitably named closing track feels downbeat but all good album enders need to be one or the other.
More than anything else though and equally vital is that the songs themselves are just great from start to finish. There’s choruses to get hooked on, infectious hooks and no pacing issues to disrupt things. I may be just be starting to write in nothing but cliches but the simplest thing to say is that since receiving the album for review there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t listened to it yet. I never feel the need to skip any tracks and it fits nicely into my daily commute. If that doesn’t sum up how good I feel about No Cities To Love, then better to just go listen to it yourself.
So welcome back Sleater-Kinney, delivering an excellent album that has a very good chance of being a highlight of the year and a perfect example of how to reform a band. For life long fans it’s a reaffirmation of why they fell in love with the band in the first place but there’s also potential for a massive cross-generational appeal and impact, which I think could turn out to be more important than anything else. Whether No Cities To Love ends up being a one off or the start of another chapter of the band’s career, Sleater-Kinney could very well go on to inspire a generation of musicians all over again.
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