Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Raw Power

By Bill Friskics-Warren

In her groundbreaking 1960 essay, "The Human Situation: A Feminine View," Valerie Saiving asserts that a theologian's gender affects his or her understanding of God and the world. She notes, for example, that the reason male theologians have traditionally understood sin as hubris or overweening pride stems in part from the social pressure on males to be perpetually self-transcending achievers. Saiving argues that, for the female gender, sin more appropriately resembles selflessness or excessive humility--the socialized traits that often keep women from reaching their potential. Women find redemption, then, not through sacrificial love, but through self-assertion, through claiming and exercising the power with which God has endowed them.

On their new album, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars), Sleater-Kinney have made what will doubtless become for riot grrl what Saiving's essay was for a generation of feminist theologians--the manifesto of a movement come of age. More than that, this Olympia, Wash., trio achieves the liberation of which Saiving writes, albeit through rock 'n' roll, and not through religion.

"Words and guitar/I got it," screams Corin Tucker, reveling in her own strength and generativity. "Words and guitar/I like it/Way way too loud/I got it," she continues, spurred on by Carrie Brownstein's stabbing six-string and drummer Janet Weiss' hammer-like blows. Tucker sings as though she can only find herself through losing herself; she exults in being out of control. "Dig me out/Dig me in/Outta my body baby outta my skin," she rages, recalling Iggy Pop at his most id-driven. In the same way that Iggy embodied the idiocy and monotony of his surroundings, in the process gaining mastery over them, Tucker turns hysteria--a condition the ancient Greeks blamed on the uterus--into raw, unmitigated power. "Worth the trouble/Worth the pain," she sings on "Things You Say." "It is brave to feel/It is brave to be alive."

Eschewing the ironic distance of modern rock in favor of a punk classicism that alternately evokes the jagged rhythms of Liliput and Wire and the blistering guitar anthems of the Buzz-cocks and the Clash, Dig Me Out is as visceral as rock 'n' roll gets. Moments of reverie occasionally relieve the tumult, with Sleater-Kinney more in command of loud-soft dynamics than on earlier albums. In the end, though, it's Tucker and Brownstein's evolution as songwriters that makes Dig Me Out even more of an epiphany than last year's Call the Doctor.

The two women have been active on the Olympia punk scene since they were teenagers, but until now they've spent most of their time railing against socialization and intolerance. Here, however, they're unconcerned with defining themselves over and against anything, much less with portraying themselves as victims, and as a result they've found a room of their own. It's a messy place where pain and pleasure, vigor and vulnerability coexist, but Dig Me Out finds Sleater-Kinney staking their claim both in the larger world and in the world of rock 'n' roll--and, for that matter, in the bedroom.

Dig Me Out burns with desire, the object usually another woman. Powered by a surging protopunk guitar riff, "One More Hour" finds Tucker tormented by the imminent--and apparently final--departure of her lover. "Don't say another word about the other girl," she pleads. On "Turn It On," her longing palpable, she sings, "It's too hard/It's too good/It's just that when you touched me/I could not stand up." Elsewhere, Tucker and Brownstein relish their sexual potency. "It's cherry cherry red and it beats on time," they moan in rapturous harmony.

Formerly lovers, the two women have nonetheless managed to keep Sleater-Kinney together--theologian Saiving might attribute the success of their musical relationship to gender. Whereas men find themselves rewarded for self-differentiation, for separating themselves from the pack, women often use power differently--to maintain and strengthen community, for instance. Tucker and Brownstein may not be lovers anymore, but they still enjoy a fulfilling partnership, one that has enabled them to make an album as transcendent and as full of release as Germfree Adolescents, It Takes a Nation of Millions, or Nevermind. "I'll touch the sky and say what I want," declares Tucker. Indeed, Dig Me Out is the sound the body makes when the spirit has flown.

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