Sleater-Kinney’s self-titled debut was good. Their second album Call the Doctor was better. But neither of those albums compares to the group’s third, Dig Me Out, a 13-track rollercoaster of two-guitar, no-bass punk rock, heavy emphasis on the rock. The band’s first album with new drummer Janet Weiss, Dig Me Out almost sounds like the work of a completely different band. It’s crisper, punchier, more streamlined, yet still fierce and with some of the most kickass drumming ever recorded on an album of its kind. And thus would begin one of the most rock solid lineups in rock `n’ roll for the next 9 years.
While Sleater-Kinney’s roots may have been in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, sonically the band shared little in common with the lo-fi punk rock of Bikini Kill or the grunge of L7. For a slight hint of what one’s getting into on Dig Me Out, just look past the guitar on the album’s cover (which is, in itself a homage to The Kinks Kink Kontroversy) to find the LP sleeve of Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 pinned up on the wall. Sleater-Kinney aren’t metal, mind you, but having emerged from a D.I.Y. punk scene and with an ear for the heavy rock canon, Sleater-Kinney created a brand new sound all their own, one that steps outside any comfortable D.I.Y. constraints in favor of something bigger.
The group plays their most confrontational cards up front with the title track, guitars blazing and drums rumbling beneath Corin Tucker’s raw statements like “do you get nervous watching me bleed,” recalling similar statements made by Polly Jean Harvey just a few short years earlier. Yet “One More Hour” shows a more tender side of the band, and was in fact written by Tucker about her prior relationship with guitarist Carrie Brownstein, as she revealed in a somewhat awkward interview several years later. This balance of the personal and the political is yet another component that sets Sleater-Kinney apart, with feminism and personal politics coming to fuse into one brutally honest package that could only be paired with their aggressive but fun brand of indie punk.
Brownstein and Tucker also show more of a call-and-response vocal relationship on Dig Me Out, particularly on “The Drama You’ve Been Craving,” which finds them dispensing the clever interplay “the clock I’m punching in/ (I’m a monster)/ work `till I can’t give/ (I’m a machine).” The mechanical rhythm of “Heart Factory,” apparently created by the sound of Weiss drumming on a space heater, mimics the sound of an actual assembly line, as Brownstein and Tucker play bipolar foils to one another between verse and chorus. While Brownstein stoically throws out the sales pitch “we’re manufacturing hearts/ we’ve got the perfect thing,” Tucker turns the soulless product she’s hawking into human emotion with the exposive cry of “find me out! I’m not just made of parts/ oh, you can break right through, this box you put me into.”
The middle section of the album reveals some of the band’s most beloved songs, from “Words and Guitar,” the best song ever written about rock `n’ roll, to the short and sax-blaring “It’s Enough,” to the single and fan favorite “Little Babies,” with its infectious nonsense chorus that’s impossible not to like. Though the album may peak here, the quality of the songs don’t dip in the slightest, with vicious rockers like “Not What You Want,” the aptly titled “Dance Song ’97″ and commanding, fuzzed-out closer “Jenny” following suit.
Dig Me Out was just the first of a five-album run of truly amazing material from this Olympia-via-Portland trio, and along with The Woods remains their best. Though there have been bands that rocked as hard as Sleater-Kinney, a few all-girl bands at that, there has never been a band, nor likely will there ever be one that can boast chops, songwriting and style like they did.