I love Sleater-Kinney; they’re one of the last bands for my generation that you could fall in love with, who could mean the world to you and who would who loved the fans as much as the fans loved them. They always seemed aware of the fan reaction and the political statement of being three women playing fast, often angry music. They seemed to want to be the feminist equivalent both the Sex Pistols and the writers of Sniffin’ Glue. It’s a beautiful ambition. I love that the album Babovic has chosen for the 33 1/3 series is Dig Me Out; whereas Call the Doctor and All Hands on the Bad One feel more obvious choices Dig Me Out is where the ‘classic’ line-up coalesces and things began to take off for them commercially. It’s a portrait of a band on the cusp of their big artistic and commercial break; almost invariably it’s the most interesting point of any band’s career. Even Coldplay’s.
As with the best books in the series this is barely about the album itself; although the circumstances of recording are discussed as they’re important to the record’s mood Babovic wisely realises that the technicalities aren’t important and often the album itself isn’t either. It’s simply the cultural artefact that triggers everything; the eye of the storm. As with the last 33 1/3 I read (Blondie’s Parallel Lines) this is about putting the album into context; its roots, its reception and the consequences for the band and music in general. I’d perhaps have liked a little more on Riot Grrl (although I appreciate there’s not a great deal of room to discuss it a little more beyond depth beyond Bikini Kill would’ve been nice) but Babovic drills down to just why the movement made little impact outside its heartland of Washington state and the UK but Sleater-Kinney did. It’s perhaps a simple conclusion but it might have been interesting to see it linked to Nirvana and Cobain’s inability to marry his purist ethic to grand scale success. Not comparing female rock stars to male stars is very much the point but equally the comparison could simply be made band against band. Riot Grrl wasn’t equipped to handle mass success but Sleater-Kinney’s willingness to meet mainstream press and the music business whilst maintaining their principles means they were. You can’t spread a message, no matter how worthy, with an insular attitude. My favourite part of the book remained the details of the interactions of fans and band; the late 1990s and early 2000s feel like the last hurrah of fanzine culture and it’s fantastic to see it detailed here. Hey Soundguy sounds like the DIY punk zines of the late 1970s; a love of music (not necessarily technique) combined with a willingness to expose the workings of the system. It’s about artists genuinely interested in having a conversation with their audience rather than preaching at them; that’s my favourite kind of band and a reminder of just why I love what they mean as much as any individual song or album.
If there’s a minor fault it’s perhaps that Babovic lapses into dry academic tone occasionally but it’s not at the expense of clearly dealing with the issues surrounding the band; it’s clearly as much about using the language of rock criticism to communicate as the band were using musical language to get their point across. That very much feels like the right way to write a book about the band; it covers what makes the band important in a relatively small wordcount.
And now I’m off to play Dig Me Out loud and take myself back most of two decades. Driving you back to the album is always the best sign of a good book.
(STANDARD DISCLAIMER – The copy I read was an advance eBook provided gratis by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review).