Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Center Won't Hold (2019)

Mom + Pop Music

When Janet Weiss departed Sleater-Kinney on July 1st of this year, citing the band’s new musical direction as the reason for her leaving, it left us with a lot of questions about the new album. The fact that The Center Won’t Hold was being produced by art-pop guitarist St. Vincent had already raised some eyebrows amongst Sleater-Kinney’s indie-punk fan base. Now, with Janet Weiss leaving over the new sound, it seemed questionable if the fan base was going to accept the album’s new style. If 1/3 of the members of the band who made the album were alienated by the band’s new direction, how were the fans going to take it?

The Center Won’t Hold is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2015 reunion album, No Cities to Love, the band’s first album in a decade. No Cities to Love saw the band on the top of their game, pulling off probably their best record with the classic Sleater-Kinney style, and fans were overjoyed to have the old band back together. The Center Won’t Hold is a very far cry from No Cities to Love and from the band’s catalogue in general. The Center Won’t Hold is not an indie-punk album, like the rest of the band’s albums, but more of a pop album with experimental elements a healthy dose of post-punk. St. Vincent’s influence is clearly visible on this album, but not to the point where it feels like her influence overruled the band’s personality. This is clearly St. Vincent’s style as interpreted by Sleater-Kinney. The album is dark and moody, sleek and sultry, and basically everything that Sleater-Kinney has never been.

The opening track, which is also the title track, lurches with metallic sounds and a dark mood before erupting into a burst of grungy punk noise as the title is repeated over and over again. “Hurry on Home,” the first single, is a bass-heavy pop song with some beautiful vocals and dark lyrics about trying to make yourself fit into a romantic relationship that isn’t right for you. “Can I Go On” has a bouncy pop style that contrasts the song’s suicidal lyrics, with Corin Tucker’s screechy vocals bringing out the song’s desperation. “RUINS” is probably the darkest and most twisted song on the album with the band’s most menacing and terrifying lyrics. Contrast that against the following track, “LOVE,” an upbeat pop song that is probably the closest thing on this album to a traditional Sleater-Kinney song. “The Dog/The Body” is a truly gorgeous pop ballad that outdoes any ballads the band has attempted in the past. Finally the closing track, “Broken,” is a beautiful piano ballad reminiscent of Fiona Apple.

A shift in style this dramatic is a huge risk for a veteran band like Sleater-Kinney, but every risk they take on this album pays off. The radical change will probably drive away a lot of the band’s fanbase (and one drummer, apparently), but everyone they alienate with their new sound is wrong for leaving. This is a perfectly executed album, and with St. Vincent’s assistance, it’s likely to win them a lot of new fans far beyond the punk rock world. And, with time, I’m sure that the punk fanbase will eventually come to appreciate this outstanding album. To Janet Weiss’s credit, as much as she might have disagreed with the new direction of this album, she does a phenomenal job, as many of these songs rely heavily on her excellent drumming skills. The Center Won’t Hold is a revolution for Sleater-Kinney, an amazing act of artistic bravery, Sleater-Kinney’s best album to date, and my new favorite album of 2019. This is a cultural moment that should not be missed, and I highly recommend you listen to it immediately.