Sleater-Kinney’s new album ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ is bittersweet. After the shock departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss following the release of singles ‘Hurry On Home’ and ‘The Future Is Here’, the album has become a marker of the end of an era. Luckily, it’s a worthy closer for the Brownstein/Tucker/Weiss epoch.
Let’s get this out of the way early: yes, St. Vincent’s influence is immediately apparent on this album. But consider this: St. Vincent is great. ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ is slick and sharp, and uncompromising in the way that Sleater-Kinney always have been. ‘The Future Is Here’ is one of the more Annie Clarke-esque songs on the record, as is the title track, which shows an entirely new side of Sleater-Kinney’s songwriting that is at once sparse and expansive. A new influence and a fresh set of ears is no bad thing.
The album asks the question, ‘how does brokenness move through the world?’ Sometimes that’s societal brokenness, and sometimes it’s an interpersonal breakdown, as on the vibrating ‘Ruins’ and exceedingly catchy lead single ‘Hurry On Home’. But the real heart of ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ is the idea of bodies and the way they are both beaten and exalted. The old-school glam track ‘Reach Out’ presents inner turmoil as physical sensations and ruined outfits, while ‘The Dog/The Body’ brings up questions of agency and identity within relationships.
The theme of identity is poignant on an album that takes such a drastically different direction to Sleater-Kinney's previous work, not to mention in light of their changing line-up. But ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ doesn’t feel like a picture of a band in flux - it is a band emerging, fully realised, into a new form. With this album, there is little doubt that Sleater-Kinney know the trick to reinvention.