[4 October 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Since Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus back in 2006, Corin Tucker has spent her time as a stay-at-home mother in Oregon, where she lives with her kids and her husband, director Lance Bangs. It seems presumptuous and dismissive to call her life “quiet”, particularly now that she has returned with a new solo record, since 1,000 Years is anything but quiet. There’s certainly a contentment running over the whole record, but that doesn’t sand down the edges on the want and feeling Tucker conveys in these new songs into some self-satisfied collection. Instead, this record plays like a burst of energy from one of the most energetic performers in the last two decades of rock music.
It’s been a long four years since the fuzzy heft, and tedious recording sessions of Sleater-Kinney’s Woods, and you can feel the change in Tucker. Not a new maturity, because the fierce drive of Sleater-Kinney was nothing if not informed and mature. But where Sleater-Kinney were out on the fringe, breaking down big, institutional walls, here Corin Tucker feels like she’s carved out her own space. She feels inside, even content, but what’s great about the record is how it shows that contentment doesn’t, and shouldn’t, alleviate yearning.
Some of that want comes from being apart. Songs like “Half a World Away” and “It’s Always Summer”—presumably about her husband, Bangs, who travels often for shoots—convey a missing that’s fully felt, but never bogged down in self pity. “Without you, the night is long,” Tucker pines, but it plays like more of a declaration of love than a lonely cry for help. The record isn’t all a biographical love letter, though, which keeps Tucker from making this an insular, familial record, but there is a distinctly domestic feel to 1,000 Years.
That’s not to say, however, that this is a settled record. Sure, sometimes we find her getting comfortable—messing with the thermostat, milling about the house—but this also gives her a lens with which to look at some very real troubles. The excellent “Thrift Store Coats” shows some stark, everyday effects of the recession. “All we have is beans for you,” she keens in resignation, and all of a sudden this moment ripples back, and gives weight and significance to the domestic peace we saw earlier in the record.
It’s that kind of perspective, and nuanced shifts in tone and theme that make 1,000 Years work so well. It’s telling that Tucker includes music written for (but not included in) Twilight: New Moon, but it is nearly impossible to pick out which songs those are, since they slide right into this set both sonically and thematically. It’s also no surprise that the songs’ subtle instrumentation and muted expression wouldn’t fit in a film that lacks all of Tucker’s confidence to not give every bit of feeling away, to make us dig it out for ourselves.
Musically, this record shows new sides of Tucker, but hardly leaves behind her past. At heart, this is a driving, if slightly muted, rock album. Still, many songs start out on far-flung posts and work their way back to Tucker’s rocking foundation. “Handed Love”, for example, floats in on sullen-sounding organs, while “Thrift Store Coats” starts with a reluctant piano. “Pulling Pieces” feels like a layered pace breaker, slow and languid, until the guitars and drums crash the party and turn it into the record’s heaviest moment. Most of these songs eventually make their way to the energetic power-pop Tucker trademarked with Sleater-Kinney. But they’re also different from that. The angular riffs have just a tad more give to them, and with layers of acoustic guitars there’s something more jangling about Tucker’s sound here, and it works. Even when they come right at the rock on a song like “Riley”, Tucker’s voice still cuts through the air with its sheer strength, but the song simmers more than it shrieks.
Quiet closer “Miles Away”—which also sounds like it could have been for New Moon—shows us exactly where Tucker has come to. “It later now, my eyes adjust,” she sings at one point, and that perhaps best sums up 1,000 Years. This is a record with a staggering perspective, one that Tucker has earned over the years and doesn’t sound forced or self-righteous in any way. You can miss people without falling apart, you can admit the troubles you face without crumbling into despair, you can make it—this record implies—if you build a life you want. And if that sounds too self-help here, it doesn’t sound at all like that on record. Tucker is as strong and fierce as ever, but instead of hearing her continue the fight, this time out we get to hear what she’s won for herself.