[4 October 2012]
PopMatters Music Editor
Actions may never speak louder than words when it comes to someone with a voice as powerful and distinctive as Corin Tucker. But the iconic ex-Sleater-Kinney singer can talk the talk because you know she walks the walk, always exuding a sense of authenticity in the way she relays her experiences. It’s just that, at almost 40, with a family and a day job, the experiences that inform her songwriting on Kill Your Blues are different from those that she made her name with in her ‘20s, though, rest assured, she sounds as steadfast as ever to the grrrl power causes that’ll be forever associated with her. If anything, Tucker leads as much by example as she does through her rallying cries now, proving to her older—and hopefully wiser—‘90s peer group that you can be pragmatic about getting by in the day-to-day, while holding on to your commitments and convictions.
That’s the message Kill My Blues gets across in both word and tone, best articulated in the manifesto-like opener “Groundhog Day”, where Tucker summons up the righteous fury that drove Sleater-Kinney’s best songs. Coming out of a self-imposed hibernation with a vengeance “like Rip Van Winkle in a denim miniskirt”, Tucker takes up the mantle of leadership from feminist rock’s pioneers to pass on the need for more social awareness among the next wave—when she speak-sings, “Did I fall asleep / On the backs of women who came before me?”, Tucker realizes her responsibility not just to the past, but to the future. Trying to shake some life into a movement that’s sometimes more engaged in chasing fashion-conscious trends these days, she rings the alarm bell in a way that only her blaring voice can, prodding, “Why is it so? / Tell me something / Are we living in slo-mo”? What gives the words such urgent meaning is the song’s confrontational enough post-punk sound, as close as Tucker—or anyone else, for that matter—has come to resuscitating Sleater-Kinney’s signature moves. Even without former bandmate Carrie Brownstein’s slashing, angular guitars complementing her own, Tucker kicks up a ruckus that’s at once comfortably familiar and bracingly invigorating.
“Groundhog Day” may be the only overtly political number on Kill My Blues, but it sets the tone for what follows, as Tucker musters more energy this time around than she did for her muted solo debut, 2010’s 1,000 Years. In particular, the coming-of-age vignette “Neskowin” is as explosive as anything Tucker did with Sleater-Kinney, her slicing riffs and soaring vocals one-upping each other to push the track to critical mass. The anxious title track and the rough-hewn “I Don’t Wanna Go” feel like they come off a post-Great Recession version of S-K’s post-9/11 effort One Beat, Tucker’s bristling guitar work given more rhythmic oomph when underlined by the beats supplied by ex-Unwound drummer Sara Lund. But it’s not like Tucker is simply trying to relive her glory days on Kill My Blues, since she finds new ways to express her agenda from a more knowing and self-conscious perspective. What stands out about “Kill My Blues”, for instance, is that its bold, bright sound is matched by a sympathetic heart that’s just as big: Tucker might as well be answering her own rhetorical question when she asks, “Who is the singer trying to sing? / Who picks up when you trip and fall? / Who carries you when you can’t walk it off”?
Sure, Tucker may not be able sustain a relentless level of intensity or pack a visceral punch as consistently as she did in Sleater-Kinney’s prime, but she’s still got enough in the tank to pull from her reserves when she really needs to. Rather than going for a knockout each and every time, Tucker has learned to pace herself, punctuating the points that need the most emphasis. At its best, Kill My Blues makes the stuff of Tucker’s everyday life feel as compelling in the here and now as Sleater-Kinney’s idealism did in another place and time. The breakneck ditty “No Bad News Tonight” tackles the common struggle to sustain yourself and your relationships when there’s no time for either, but Tucker makes what’s mundane feel vital and essential when she implores, “Turn off your phone and power down / Turn off the light / If you want to see me / Then we’ve got tonight”. Even more indicative of the state of affairs for anyone now closer to middle-age than college age is the mid-tempo “Blood, Bones, and Sand”, which flickers with energy in fits and starts to keep on keeping on. There, Tucker comes to the no-frills realization of what it means that “This morning I woke and I found I’m no longer alone”, conveying what’s poignant and even profound in the recognition that what’s taken for granted is really what should be appreciated.
As a whole, what Kill My Blues goes to show is that the grand statements of fighting the good fight aren’t necessarily bigger and more important than the little things in life that actually make the world go around. The progression of Corin Tucker’s career and the arc of Kill My Blues provide proof positive that the personal may be political, but it’s also still personal.