One of my favorite stories about Sleater-Kinney involves Corin Tucker being interviewed by Joe Heim at Salon.com. According to Maria Raha’s Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground (which you should read, by the way), his first question for Tucker was “How does it feel to be `women in rock’?” When she refused to answer, he asked the question again. At that point, she simply hung up.
Sleater-Kinney were iconic in their historical defiance of such ridiculously antiquated perceptions, and this incident succinctly represents the Portland, Ore. band for what they were: an intelligent, political, inherently feminist trio of women who made truly excellent rock and roll. Their “indefinite hiatus” in 2005 was not only sad because it meant no more albums like Call the Doctor or Dig Me Out; it also meant that most likely, one of the few all-female rock bands was going to fade into the ether.
One factor to take from Sleater-Kinney’s stretch of existence is how the three-piece managed to release seven noteworthy albums during their time, starting with their self-titled debut in 1995 and ending with their superb The Woods in 2005. Smack dab in the middle was 1999’s The Hot Rock, coming out at a time when they’d found themselves as critical darlings as well as potential mainstream contenders. Seven albums as a set is tough to swallow, especially when you try to really separate each and every one.
What I love about The Hot Rock, however, is the thread of melody that keeps it together. Song by song, the record places softness to the band’s typically raw edges, each one leading into each other seamlessly and with a touch of grace. This of course does not take away from the fact that The Hot Rock still rocks really hard, with every garage-y hook and wailing vocal that makes the signature Sleater-Kinney sound. The title track, in particular, is quintessential: dueling vocals and instrumentation, a feeling of vulnerability paired with femme-punk noise. Sleater-Kinney demonstrated their growth as songwriters on this album, and as The Hot Rock was released right in the middle of their career as a band, there was no better time for such a development. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss proved that they could do what they wanted for the duration of their well-respected career, marking their territory as both musicians and socially significant women, and The Hot Rock was simply another step in that journey.