Feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna is back with a great new band and sparkling new album.
The rock ‘n’ roll world is so much better off when a fully engaged Kathleen Hanna is wailing away inside it. She exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s with Bikini Kill, a feminist punk band that launched a social movement, inspired a generation of young women and created a body of primal and enduring music. Next came Le Tigre, which paired Hanna’s social consciousness with an infectious dance sound. Now, after a long absence, Hanna is back with a new band and a new album, and the results are every bit as smart, raucous and fun as we could have hoped for.
The band is the Julie Ruin, named after a solo record that Hanna created in the waning days of Bikini Kill. The album is called Run Fast, and it bristles with punk-rock attitude and a fizzy 1980s New Wave vibe. These are songs to dance to, to scream to, and to play air-guitar to. Hanna convened the band after struggling with a long-undiagnosed case of Lyme disease, and the album as a whole feels like a celebratory, back-from-the-brink fist in the air.
Hanna’s voice, often scratched with distortion, is in fine form here. She snarls her way through “Ha Ha Ha”, a venomous kiss-off to a rival, and “Oh Come On”, a feminist call to (musical) arms. She shows a tender side on “Just My Kind”, a sweet and smoky love song (which was produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem). And as always, she knows how to lace her delivery with wry humor, as in “Kids in NY”, where she pokes fun at the young hipsters swarming into New York’s seedier neighborhoods.
It would be wrong, though, to suggest that Run Fast is simply a Kathleen Hanna show. Her collaborators — Kenny Mellman on keyboards, Sara Landeau on guitar, Carmine Covelli on drums and Hanna’s former Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox on bass — all are integral to the band’s sound. In fact, if there’s a secret weapon here, I’d say it’s Mellman’s keys. His synth and organ lines infuse the songs with an irresistible bounce, recalling the more playful sounds of New Wave bands like Blondie, the B-52s, and the Waitresses. Check out what he does to a song like “Ha Ha Ha”, for example —his bubbly synth opening is the perfect complement (or counterpunch, if you prefer) to Hanna’s bilious rant.
Overall, Run Fast looks like the opening salvo from a wonderful new band, and the start of a strong new chapter in Hanna’s musical career. I hope so. She may not be the brash punk who confronted audiences more than 20 years ago, but this album shows that she hasn’t lost any of her wit or passion. And that she still can out-wail everyone else.