A volatile and heart-wrenching mix that still demands full attention 20 years on.
If your faith in the life changing vitality of rock is ever in doubt, let Dig Me Out be the light that leads you home. Forged from the disillusionment of heartbreak, Sleater-Kinney’s third album is a riotous mix of buzz saw guitars and larger than life emotions. It’s the sort of album you can live in, and after 20 years, its youthful vim and vigor has not wavered.
A high stakes conviction runs throughout the album as singer-guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker bludgeon any speaker in their path, their tight riffage molding and fusing into forcefully catchy melodies. Meanwhile, newly implemented drummer Janet Weiss provides all of the propulsion needed, her heavy beats and rhythm creating the thunderous low end backing needed for a group that didn’t have a bass player.
Brownstein and Tucker began the group much like other classic songwriting duos: eye-to-eye with guitars in hand, hashing out blind sketches that would soon be transformed into vitriolic explosions of noise and confusion. That initial friendship evolved into a romance that had almost prophetically spun out of control by the recording of Dig Me Out. As is the case for many songwriters, romantic disarray bled into creative fury, and the result is a tour de force of raw power, bleeding heart rock.
Dig Me Out moves at a breakneck pace with tightly wound tracks that barely hit the three-minute mark. The title track kicks things off with menacing guitars that give way to an earth shaking drum roll. Tucker is already in full on wail mode, her vocals railing against the very foundations of the song as she immediately takes command and fearlessly begins the interrogation: “What do you want?/ What do you know?/ Do you get nervous making me go?” “The Drama You’ve Been Craving” layers dueling vocals over a wiry guitar line as Weiss ensures a frenetic rhythm that doesn’t let up.
Weiss was the missing link that solidified Sleater-Kinney as a powerful prospect. Initially reluctant to join, being a few years older and not part of the local Olympia, Washington scene from which the band originated, she was won over by Tucker and Brownstein’s sheer enthusiasm. “The first time we played with Janet, she was so powerful,” recalled Tucker. “Carrie and I looked at each other and went, ‘Oh, my God, we totally got lucky.’”
Meanwhile, Brownstein and Tucker’s vocal interplay is key to the Sleater-Kinney sound, their intertwining voices marking the exact point where every song clicks and the trio smashes into the next dimension. Tucker’s wail dominates, opening the heavens while Brownstein takes the lower register. “I think we found the way to put the fun back in sin,” Brownstein sinisterly whispers in “Heart Factory” before Tucker thrillingly rips through.
“Little Babies” lightens the mood with a B-52s inspired new wave chorus. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the lyrics subvert the “all girl” band as Tucker slyly questions, “Are you hungry?/ Did you eat before the show?/ I peeled potatoes set the table washed the floor.”
Internal and external conflicts mingle throughout as Tucker and Brownstein refuse to take any shit from the outside world or even each other. “Dance Song ‘97” hides more big emotions behind pop kicks, continuing the new wave trend with pristine backing vocals and a wiggly synth accompanying each chorus before giving way to a chiming bridge: “If you’re going way too hard/ If you’re feeling way too much/ But inside you can’t stop/ Desire she eats you up.”
It all comes tumbling out in “One More Hour,”Dig Me Out’s second and perhaps most affecting track. “Oh you’ve got the darkest eyes,” howls Tucker over Brownstein’s relentless riff – Tucker’s ode to their disintegrated relationship surely weighs heavy as both come together during the chorus. The rise and fall of their relationship is a key component to the Sleater-Kinney story and the band’s breakup nearly a decade after the album’s release was the unexpected first ending needed for a creative rebirth.
Like many freshly reunited bands, Sleater-Kinney has only become more popular over the years as its rousing rush of sound and fury has found newer and younger audiences. Its 2015 reunion tour cast the band as heroes returning to the fray, playing venues bigger than ever before while finding an increased relevance in a scene desperate for fiercely intelligent heroes. At the core of this success remains its first step towards greatness, Dig Me Out: a volatile and heart-wrenching mix that still demands full attention 20 years on.