May 13 — “Entertain” by Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Entertain” by Sleater-Kinney (2005, from the album The Woods).
Before I get started, I want to thank my friend Bill for stepping up to the plate in a pinch-hitter role for me yesterday. I knew on Friday morning that my work weekend was going to be really impossibly demanding on me and my time. I asked him if he wanted to guest write for me, and without hesitation he agreed. He did a very good job with the post on Hunters and Collectors. It’s one of his favorite bands, and I know that he had a great time doing that. It probably won’t be the last time you see him on TiTS.

Now, back to the main order of business.
Sleater-Kinney was an indie rock/punk band from Olympia, Washington. They released seven albums between 1995 and 2005. They arrived a little too late to be a part of the riot grrrl scene, and they’re not quite “fuck you” enough for that anyway, and they’re too skilled for that anyway, but that’s the sort of band that they were. Three women playing loudly. Oh… They were also having a whole lot of fun. Yeah, so not really riot grrrrl at all.

Before forming, Tucker had been the front of punk band Heavens to Betsy. Although I have(and really like) their only album —Calculated (1993)–, I don’t think that I remembered that juicy nugget of information until just now. Brownstein had been the front of Excuse 17, who I don’t know. Weiss had been in a couple of different bands, and is in fact still in Quasi, with her ex-husband. I only have one of their records, and I’ve known that bit all along.

Okay. I might as well get it out of the way. This is what people always want to talk about. Brownstein and Tucker both call themselves “bisexual”. It’s true that they sort of dated each other for a really short period of time. Brownstein refers to it as “for only a second” Tucker is now married to documentarian/teevee commercial director/music video director Lance Bangs. You know all those Pavement videos? That’s him. He’s also directed hundreds of other videos by dozens of bands that you know and love.

Those two founded the band with another drummer, then they had another, and another. Janet Weiss didn’t come along until their incredible Dig Me Out album in 1997. That was the third album in their discography, and the first of four on Kill Rock Stars. While she was hanging out with Carrie and Corin, they played her a rough version of the song “Dig Me Out”. Janet wrote this amazing drum bit for it, and they knew that they had their drummer.

While Sleater-Kinney was known for their high-energy shows, their leftist politics and their girl power views, a lot of people sometimes forgot to give them credit for being pretty badassed at playing their instruments. Janet Weiss is regarded by serious critics as a very skilled drummer. Not just “good, for a girl”, but good. Guitar enthusiasts recognize “Dig Me Out” as a guitar masterpiece.

There was also something a bit unusual about Sleater-Kinney. Two guitars. No bass. I’m not even sure what this means because I know nothing of the technical aspects of guitar, but both Corin and Carrie played with their guitars tuned to C#, which is a step and a half low. This enabled one (usually Corin) to play her guitar as if it was a bass. I never knew that before today.

I used to consider myself to be a massive Sleater-Kinney fan. I’ve seen them probably a dozen times and I (used to) know all the records by heart. I used to vacillate on which was my favorite of their records, and I usually settled on the 2000 album All Hands on The Bad One. For some reason, that was when I stopped buying their records. I don’t know why, but I ignored both One Beat(2002) and their last record The Woods(2005). Finally, I rectified that situation about a year ago and discovered that there are some really amazing songs, including your song du jour on The Woods. That was their first (and last) record on Sub Pop before the went on permanent hiatus in 2006.

So there’s a lot of buildup. Here, finally, is your song:

There’s some speculation that this entire song is a rant against the politics involved with moving to a “major-minor” label. According to the theory, they were encouraged to lay off of the politics and they were encouraged to dumb it down a little. You know… for the masses. I don’t think that any of that happened, but it makes the opening lines make sense:

So you want to be entertained?
Please look away
We’re not here cause we want to entertain
Please go away (don’t go away)

Maybe it is their way of saying “we’re not this band that Sub Pop wants us to be”

I have a little bit of difficulty with a bit of the theory which says that this is also a lambaste against bands who come along with a “retro” look or sound without having any understanding of the origins.

You come around sounding 1972
You did nothing new with 1972
Where’s the fuck you
Where’s the black and blue

I can definitely see how that’s their way of saying that you can’t be a retro punk band if you don’t have any authentic anti-establishment anger or the bruises to back up your tough guy persona.

So if you’re Sleater-Kinney, and you have the opportunity to sign with Sub Pop, which means that you’ll sell more records and go on more elaborate tours, do you become this band that just cranks out “entertaining” music? Do you back off of some of the authentic rage against the system, when you’re part of the system?

I don’t think that this song is about themselves, or Sub Pop, or anything like that. I’m not sure that I even care what it’s about. I know that I’m entertained. Maybe that’s exactly contrary to the point, but I don’t care.

There’s a lot that I really like. Mostly two things. First, it’s a Carrie song. I’ve grown to like her more than I like Corin. So there. Second, Janet’s drumming is fantastic. I’m a big fan. I won’t analyze it to death since this post is getting long-ish and the hour is getting late.

The band called a hiatus after this record came out. They keep threatening to get back together for a new record, but I haven’t heard anything serious about that.

These days, Corin Tucker has a solo record. Janet Weiss plays in Quasi. She and Carrie Brownstein also play in Wild Flag with Mary Timony from Helium. Of course you can also see Carrie on the teevee show Portlandia.

You can order The Woods in physical (CD only) or digital format from the Sub Pop Records web store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

3 responses to “May 13 — “Entertain” by Sleater-Kinney

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