Janet Weiss, Corin Tucker, and Carrie Brownstein are musicians that take on political issues of identity from positions of agency, and All Hands on the Bad One is their latest punk production. Part of the Riot-Grrl movement in the early 1990s, along with bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney has received significant attention from the mainstream American music press. This is unusual for a punk band signed to an independent label, even a label as prominent as Kill Rock Stars. Sleater-Kinney has been featured in traditionally straight and conservative industry magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone. In fact, even Esquire magazine, ranting and raving over the band’s previously release, The Hot Rock, claimed that Sleater-Kinney is too good for the radio.
The ultimate stamp of approval, though, has to be the one that came from Joan Jett. In a May 1998 Spin article, Jett stated: “I like that they’re women who shove things in people’s faces.” Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One does just that through lovely harmonies, brilliant drum work, great punk rock guitar riffs, and super-smart lyrics.
“Ballad of the Ladyman” poses the temptations of a ladyman, two of which are “new perfect skin” and a “hit on the radio.” This song sports sweet harmonies, a slow anger and soft, low bitterness, and driving steady guitars and drums. “Ironclad” features fast guitar work and ripping vocals as it speaks of a last stand in a small town battle. The title track, “All Hands on the Bad One,” has good harmonies, yearning strength in the vocals, and quick guitar riffs that are reminiscent of Call the Doctor. This track features a low punk groove: “Can’t get to heaven in your Sunday best / The night before they were calling it your cocktail dress.”
“Youth Decay,” grapples with adult disbelief of the problems of youth and the manifestations of it in terms of eating disorders and silence. This tune moves fast with regal punk rock guitar work. Meanwhile “You’re No Rock’n Roll Fun” is all about easy moving, beach punk rock music. “#1 Must Have” consists of a good mix of changes and some solid drum work. It discusses images of women in the media, making up one’s mind instead of one’s face, and wanting “something more than to be your size six.”
“The Professional” is a smooth tune made up of notable drum work, and kind harmonies. “Was It a Lie?” is filled with lovely sarcasm and sociopolitical concern. It’s about the blood, pain, and death that are the fetish of TV news and one viewer’s desire to “cut the wires” and wish for “a day not made for you to see.” The next track, “Male Model,” is filled with punk rock bravado aimed at the male role models for female bands that seem to have always already existed. Sleater-Kinney, ready to raise the stakes, declares: “If you’re ready for more, I just might be what you’re looking for.” Following this is “Leave You Behind,” a luscious melody complimented by wonderful harmonies and guitar work.
The funkiest song that Sleater-Kinney has ever put out has got to be “Milkshake’n Honey.” This is a slinky groove that grinds slowly with sarcastic humor and a honey organ at the end: “...I had a sweet tooth and that girl was just like a king size candy bar.” The next song, “Pompeii,” is about analyzing where one’s at and realizing the losses suffered. Last up, “The Swimmer,” is a slow, slightly eerie, soft tune with lilting guitar work and choice vocals and harmonies.
All Hands on the Bad One: pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.