Let’s break down the basics before we begin. There was Sleater-Kinney, a three-piece punk rock girl group made up of Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss. They released a bunch of great albums, fiery and brash each one, but chose to take an “indefinite hiatus” in 2006. Going their separate ways, drummer Janet Weiss kept working hard, making albums with Quasi and Stephen Malkmus (with The Jicks). Guitarist and sometimes singer Carrie Brownstein expanded into other artful projects, blogging for NPR and doing a bit of acting work both as one half of the comedy duo ThunderAnt (with SNL’s Fred Armisen) and even starring in an upcoming indie film with The Shins’ James Mercer. All of this happened before we’d heard a word from Tucker, who had practically dropped off the face of the Earth. No worries though, she’s been working hard at that thing many of us have known as family. She’s got a couple kids and a husband and sometimes you just need to take a step back from the fame to spend time with those most important to you. The good news for fans of Corin Tucker is that she’s been working on some songs during her free time and was able to eventually piece together a small band to help her play them for a record titled “1,000 Years”. And just to keep everything completely up to date, Weiss and Brownstein have just recently announced they’ll be in a new band with Mary Timony that’s being called Wild Flag. Expect material and touring from them in 2011.
There’s this wail that Corin Tucker did on every Sleater-Kinney album that was often so intense you could stop the rest of the music and your attention would still be completely drawn to it. That’s one of the main things that set Sleater-Kinney apart from so many other punk bands as well as other girl bands. Combine that with some seriously hardcore guitar work by Carrie Brownstein and it’s little wonder why that band reached indie stardom. For those of you (like me) that have missed Tucker’s classic yell, there’s bad news afoot on “1,000 Years”. It’s a relatively quiet, introspective singer-songwriter sort of record. So much of it keeps a cool head about it that tends to bring to mind someone like Neko Case or PJ Harvey. Of course Neko Case and PJ Harvey have written some incredible solo albums, and they’re proof positive that just because your voice can reach the rafters doesn’t mean it needs to be used that way every time. Tucker’s relative calm through much of the album means there’s more time to focus on atmosphere and lyrical content, and there’s plenty of both to go around.
The first two tracks on “1,000 Years” understandably feel front-loaded to ease you into the record without taking many chances. It’s still a long way from the heavier punk that Sleater-Kinney so easily released into the world, but there’s some electric guitar that’s not half bad in these mid-tempo melodies. The song “Half A World Away” is about missing somebody you love, and Tucker’s vocals sound like she’s genuinely upset in a surprisingly emotional moment. A small bit of experimentation emerges on “Handed Love”, which starts out as a really sparse, bland and ineffective ballad with little to nothing going for it. There’s no easy verse-chorus-verse to guide you around, and just as it becomes a chore to sit through, it bursts open at the seams into a cathartic release that somehow feels worth it. The spitfire side of Tucker really starts to emerge on “Doubt”, and there are slices of her tour-de-force yelp, but the mediocre electric guitar work holds the song back from being something exceptional. Meanwhile the balladry of “Dragon” just does most everything wrong, thanks in large part to a string section that is probably one of the most ineffective and pathetic string sections you’ll ever hear. The song stands out as exceptionally poor as it’s sandwiched beween two harder rock numbers that do so much more with so much less. Near the end of the album, a couple of the songs almost start to blend into one another. “Thrift Store Coats” has some nice piano at the beginning, but the electric guitars eventually take over and ruin the mood. Thankfully that piano is given its full due on the closing track “Miles Away”, and it works quite well to become one of the album’s biggest highlights.
When she’s not driving forwards at full volume, Corin Tucker proves she’s still a very capable and strong vocalist. The passion she injects into her singing stands largely apart from everything else that’s going on throughout “1,000 Years”. There’s a number of pretty good songs on the record, but nothing quite so gripping that it’s essential listening. Arguably, the greatest problems here result from the “Band” part of The Corin Tucker Band. Whoever these people are playing on this album with her, they’re talented enough to play in a band, just a pretty crappy one that doesn’t make waves beyond a local music scene. They should be called a backing bland rather than a backing band. Perhaps, one might argue, they’re just following orders and are ensuring to give Tucker the spotlight she so richly deserves. Whatever the reasons might be, a few of the songs on “1,000 Years” had the potential to be mindblowing but just never made it that far. Or perhaps the issue isn’t so much who’s there as it is who’s not. With Carrie Brownstein digging in deep on her guitar and Janet Weiss slamming the drums like there’s no tomorrow, combined with Tucker’s vocals, Sleater-Kinney was a trinity of amazing musicians. We can’t even judge how Brownstein would do solo because she has yet to release any post-S-K music (at the moment). Weiss’s utility player role will serve her well in any band she joins, as we’ve already seen. The Wild Flag album’s going to be a small test, but that in itself is a supergroup so great things are expected from them anyways. Corin Tucker is effectively going it alone with some faceless musicians helping her out. Expectations were high anyways, and so “1,000 Years” feels like a mild disappointment. Nobody’s going to fault her for trying though, and if she keeps making music under the Corin Tucker Band name it could very well get a whole lot better. Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed for that Sleater-Kinney reunion.