Ready for More 

Sleater-Kinney return with monumental One Beat; Coldplay avoid “The Radiohead Effect”

Sleater-Kinney return with monumental One Beat; Coldplay avoid “The Radiohead Effect”

“If you’re ready for more / I just might be what you’re looking for,” roared Corin Tucker on the last Sleater-Kinney album, All Hands on the Bad One. Tucker was calling for more male rockers to share the stage with their female counterparts, but her exhortation could just as easily have been an advert for One Beat (Kill Rock Stars), the Portland, Ore., trio’s new album. Every bit as informed by the events of last September as Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, Sleater-Kinney’s latest packs more intensity, more empathy, more defiance, more hurt, more subtlety, more range, more blare and more technique into its dozen tracks than any of the band’s albums to date.

That claim might smack of reckless hyperbole for a trio of women—Tucker, guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss (all three sing)—who tastemakers have for years touted as the best rock band alive. And such encomiums feed the very cock-rock one-upmanship that riot grrl and Sleater-Kinney have rebelled against from the beginning. Yet the evidence—the heat-seeking guitars of Tucker and Brownstein, Tucker’s feral wail, Weiss’ imperious thwack—is writ large on the trio’s new album. One Beat opens outward like no S-K record before it, moving beyond politics of identity and resistance to articulate a post-9-11 grammar of faith, noise and solidarity that connects the dots between the women’s global and local concerns.

“These are troubled times, these times are rough / There’s more to come, but you can’t give up,” Tucker urges, spurred on by the spiky forcebeats and neo-Stax brass of “Step Aside.” More telling is the way she brings it all back home on “Sympathy,” a slide guitar- and cowbell-driven 9/11 blues punctuated with “ooh, ooh-oohs” straight out of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Rather than going toe-to-toe with Lucifer, Tucker, with a mix of anger, doubt and humility, calls on heaven to protect her newborn—and, by implication—all God’s children. “I know I come to you only when in need / I’m not the best believer / Nor the most deserving / But...I’d beg you on bended knees for him,” Tucker sings, referring to her young son. “And I’m so sorry / For those who didn’t make it / And for the mommies who are left with their heart breaking.” As with the rest of One Beat, “Sympathy” testifies to the possibility of harnessing energy and chaos to unlock knotty visions and emotions. Alternate title: Sleater-Kinney Sing Our Generations.

—Bill Friskics-Warren

Because Britpop tends toward the atmospheric and fey, bands who traffic in the genre can’t seem to resist the temptation to follow up popular successes with more “challenging” albums full of arty sonic effects and hard edges that obscure their lack of hooks. Call it The Radiohead Effect (though the trend may date back to the early ’80s, when orchestral pop darlings ABC made a fleeting stab at heavy metal after the lush smash Lexicon of Love). In that context, Coldplay’s second album A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol)—doggedly similar in tone and style to their 2000 debut LP Parachutes—isn’t as conservative as it may sound. It would have been easier in a way for Coldplay to hire Steve Albini or Steve Lillywhite or some other Steve and then spend a year dicking around in a remote island castle, cooking up insular pop experiments and just generally disappearing up their own asses. Harder to do is to write and record good songs...especially when good songs are exactly what the pop music world (and the world in general) needs.

The pulsing, dynamic “Politik” opens Rush with about as much discordance as Coldplay will allow. After that somewhat threatening beginning, the band settle into the sort of lilting, echoing ballads (some fast, some slow, some hard, some soft) that made them stars, with singer Chris Martin crooning like the adopted son of Bono and Jeff Buckley and his mates filling the spaces between Martin’s cracked voice with understated, deliberate punches of piano, drums, bass and electric guitar. Songs like “The Scientist,” “Daylight” and “Warning Sign” are hookless—this is Britpop, after all—but they are undeniably lovely, and though Coldplay haven’t figured out how to get through an entire album without lapsing occasionally into tedium, Martin’s developing sense of himself as an empathetic, broken man of peace gives shape to the shapeless. When he sings, “The truth is I miss you,” to a lover he wishes he hadn’t scorned in “Warning Sign,” A Rush of Blood to the Head pushes all the buttons it has to push: the obvious ones, the good ones.

—Noel Murray

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