Saturday, 15 August 2009

Let's Call it Love

Amazing footage of Sleater-Kinney playing at the Big Day Out festival in 2006:

Sleater-Kinney -- 'Jumpers' (live at the Big Day Out 2006)

Sleater-Kinney -- 'Wilderness' (live at the Big Day Out 2006)

Sleater-Kinney -- 'Rollercoaster' (live at the Big Day Out 2006)

Sleater-Kinney -- 'What's Mine Is Yours' (live at the Big Day Out 2006)

While we're talking about Sleater-Kinney, I really should point you all in the direction of Tim O'Neil's epic posts on Sleater-Kinney's last album, The Woods. You can read part 1 here, but it's the 2nd essay, with its copious samples from Jack Kirby's New Gods that's really got me excited. This is exactly the kind of silly/wonderful juxtaposition that this blog is built for, and I truly wish that I'd got there first!

Now, thinking about it, the pre-Woods Sleater-Kinney strike me as more of an old-school Marvel comics proposition -- their songs were sometimes bombastic, sometimes angsty, frequently agitated and often humorous, but they always felt like part of an ongoing indie punk story. The Woods, meanwhile, is definitely more like a solo Kirby comic -- the drums and guitars and vocals all rumble and howl with the brute force of a pure Kirby creation:

(Big Barda in action in Mister Miracle. Is Barda the only person other than Janet Weiss who could have played drums on The Woods? I think so.)

That said, I wouldn't have invoked quite the same Fourth World material that O'Neil does in his piece -- instead of the apocalyptic cleansing of the New Gods story O'Neil riffs on, I would have probably went for something from Mister Miracle. I think the root of this (minor) disagreement can be found in the penultimate paragraph of O'Neil's second post:
Even after everything has fallen apart, there is still life enough to fill a universe, hope enough to rage forever against the brutality and ignorance of the worst evils. The Woods is both life and anti-life, the will to fight and the desire to die. It's everything nasty and gorgeous, beautiful and scarred. You can't hope to escape unscathed, but you can't escape without feeling wonderfully alive for every harrowing minute.
Now this is stirring stuff, and it's almost right, but it doesn't quite match what I get from the record. The stuff about harrowing escape is dead on, but I just don't hear "the desire to die" anywhere on The Woods. Even when the band channel Black Sabbath via Joy Division in the brutalised rumble of 'Steep Air', I can't hear anything in the music which makes me think that the band actively desire this state.

O'Neil discussed this song back in his first post on this album, and here's what he had to say about it:
...unlike most examples of dark pop music, there's nothing theatrical or histrionic on display here. It's real, it's earned, it's heartbreaking.
I booked my ticked
Packed my bags
Flight is leaving
Our time has passed.
I'm tired of knocking on a door that just won't budge,
Locked out of the engine, It's a wheel that you have spun
But who's to say I don't have wings?
The problem is that the "wings" which present the only glimpse of hope at the end of "Steep Air" fly for the briefest of durations - that is, the four seconds it takes to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in "Jumpers".
What O'Neil fails to take into account is that sometime four seconds of hope is enough. Sure, it's the time it takes for the speaker in 'Jumpers' to hit the ground, but in that song as in 'Steep Air' the vocals strain towards the escape O'Neil mentioned, towards something better than the world they exist in. Anti-life is invoked constantly, but only so the band can show how to beat it, which is why Carrie's frantic screams of "You're not the only one" in the middle of 'Jumpers' are more important than either the blanked-out devastation of that song's verses or its final destination.

The desire for death? Creation through destruction? Nah, that's not what The Woods is all about, not for me anyway.

(A young Mister Miracle escapes anti-life to "find the universe!!!" Sorry for the crappy scan -- those big Fourth World books like to play rough, you know?)

What is it all about then? What do I hear in the mighty fucking racket of 'Let's Call it Love' if I don't hear universes collapsing? Well, it's a raw/sweaty/exhausting celebration of life, isn't it? It's all about working up the desire to face the horrors of your political, personal and musical history and live to do so again another day. That's what The Woods sounds like to me, and that's what Mr Miracle's all about, one ridiculous escape at a time:

(Ah, now that's romance! Image via Chris's Invincible Super-Blog.)

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