It would seem that Corin Tucker got all her singer-songwriter-y experimentation out on the occasionally brilliant 1,000 Years, and came back to formulas that hit closer to those die-hard listeners would associate her with. A cynical listener might say that she saw the positive response to the hard-rocking that former Sleater-Kinney band-mates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss were doing in Wild Flag and decided she could match them. However you’d like to look at it, the Corin Tucker Band’s second album often lingers like a pale shadow of material that we all know that Tucker has done before, and more intensely.
On Kill My Blues, Tucker pasteurizes the diversity of her last semi-solo disc, retaining the variety in pace and lyrical material of 1,000 Years, but doling it out into uniform little packages. While the at times head-scratching inclusions of keys and strings on the last album missed their mark, they showed a newly solo artist striving to find her own sound. No one would say that Tucker’s discussion of being a new mom and concerns for the future are old hat, they often sound it when pushed along by churning, distorted guitars and her old rebel yell back in full force.
Speaking of that yell: it remains one of the most affecting vocal deliveries in recent history. The vibrato sounds as wicked and demanding as ever on the rushing rapids of “I Don’t Wanna Go”, leading the meandering guitar and former Unwound drummer Sara Lund’s easy-rolling fills. It’s hard to dislike anything sung in this mighty, earth-cracking delivery, and it often times makes up for the sometimes thin material underneath it. The rhythm section is pulling its weight on this track, the driving pulse keeping things alive, but replace Tucker with almost any other vocalist and the airy, tame guitars stick out like a couple of sore thumbs.
Opening track “Groundhog Day” may be the closest to recapturing the aggression of Sleater-Kinney, and its subject matter certainly bares out that anger. While some of the things she was rebelling against 20 years ago have changed, the lack of equality for women is something that’s always going to provide fuel for this riot grrrl flame. “Tell me almost equal, almost good enough/ almost had a woman go and run the White House,” she sneers over angular guitars, exasperated at fighting the same battles over and over.
Most of the time, though, the rage in her voice mismatches with the overly glammy, sleek material, lacking the wildness that made her first band so important. The sharp-edged howls of “Neskowin” are more than dulled by the funky bass and disco-fied hi-hat rides. The cheerily bouncy, thin synths driving much of the title track similarly nullify much of the emotive power that Tucker brings to the table. The breezy, shimmering “Summer Jams” lasts too long, a powerfully crushed bridge ruined with over two minutes of aux. percussion and bland chording pushing beyond it.
A good ballad can show as much of Tucker’s vocal depth as one of the hot rockers, and for that reason alone “Outgoing Message” stands out amidst the album’s slow-burning second half. Immediately following a tribute to Joey Ramone (a familiar subject for Tucker), “Outgoing Message” allows the vocalist to let the breathier, smoother facets of her vocals to shine, and Lund’s soft tom thumps fit behind her softspoken delivery perfectly. Seth Lorinczi’s organ lines haunt the background, and Tucker’s self-correcting analysis (“we’re not making songs for suburban little girls/ or we are/ we’re much too sincere”) hits close to an uncertain home.
Tucker seems paradoxically unaware of the stagnation and attempting to fight against it at the same time. What we’re left with sounds an awful lot like someone trying to recapture the manner in which to express frustration and rage. She’s not quite able to set the angst burners to full, but should she need to? There has to be a middle ground between the homogenized rock structures here and the aimless, light experimentation of her last disc, and it has to not be “just reunite already!” While, duh, that’d be the solution we’d all love to see, until it happens we have to hope that Tucker can answer that on her own, without Brownstein and Weiss.
Essential Tracks: “Groundhog Day”, “Outgoing Message”