Sometimes, you just wish the art could speak for itself. But alas, we live in a time where that rarely happens. This especially comes to mind when talking about Sleater-Kinney’s latest, The Center Won’t Hold, which ended up being the last album recorded with drummer Janet Weiss before she exited the band prior to the album’s release. So while listening to it, one can’t help but take into consideration whether the new sounds explored on the album caused a rift in the band’s, well, center. Then when you also take into account that Weiss was injured in a potentially career-ending car accident last month, it feels as though a bit of a gray cloud hangs over The Center Won’t Hold.
Which is a shame, since it’s got a lot going for it. I’m not sure Sleater-Kinney could have out-rocked their last release, 2015’s glorious No Cities To Love, which saw the band coming back from their decade-long hiatus and reclaiming their crown as the last great American punk band. So instead, they enlisted the help of producer Annie Clark (of St. Vincent fame) to give the band a more sleek, electro-infused sound to complement their snarling jagged edges. This doesn’t seem completely out of character for Sleater-Kinney, since they’ve always been prone to taking stylistic left-turns after crafting more accessible albums (think 1999’s melancholy The Hot Rock or the maxed out crunch of 2005’s The Woods).
For the most part, the droney, synthy, poppy touch that Clark brings to the table works, though I do get a little lost in the middle of the album. The Center Won’t Hold gets off to a good start with the lurching title track, which slowly builds toward the kind of firey climax that S-K pulls off like no other band. This then leads into “Hurry On Home”, whose apocalyptic back-up vocals combine nicely with an angsty Carrie Brownstein vocal backed-up by Janet Weiss’s indomitable thwomp.
Many of album’s middle tracks get into dancier territory, which is mostly enjoyable, though Weiss’s drumming gets a bit lost in the mix. Also, having two songs (“Can I Go On” and “The Future Is Here”) specifically about how much time we spend looking at screens makes me more tired than wired. On the other hand, there’s the penultimate track “The Dog / The Body”, which features one of the best, most anthemic choruses of any Sleater-Kinney song. It’s a reminder of what Sleater-Kinney is capable of when this vital, three-pronged unit is completely working together in unison, even if the album as a whole doesn’t always feel that way.