Count me among those who thought Sleater-Kinney’s 2019 album, The Center Won’t Hold, was utterly fantastic. I know the churlish consensus is that the beloved band misstepped in adopting some of the ideas proffered by their famous producer, or perhaps in hiring her in the first place, but I want to hear the artists who are most capable of smart evolution strike off in new directions. When the first Sleater-Kinney album was released, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, the band’s mainstays, were in their early twenties. They’re now creeping up on fifty. Why should they be making the exact same sort of splendid racket?
“Worry With You,” the new track released from the just-announced album Path of Wellness, has vestiges of the sound that caused such consternation among fans and music writers who prefer stasis. The guitars have a modern bluesy tone that echoes the Black Keys more than the pummeling assault of earlier Sleater-Kinney records. And yet, to me, it sounds unmistakably like Tucker and Brownstein to me, the pair working out their worldview with crafty, jagged, and enveloping rock music.
Part of the album announcement was the enthusiastically shared detail that Path of Wellness is the first self-produced effort by the band. That choice might have inspired by the challenge of collaborating during the pandemic, but it’s also an extension of the growing willingness to make their shared art an unguarded expression of self. From her studio chair, it was St. Vincent who told Sleater-Kinney that they needed to eschew the obliqueness they were building into the words of the song “LOVE” and make it a direct celebration of their shared existence as a band. The song became a tuneful autobiography: “Heard you in my headphones/ Slipped you my address/ Call the doctor/ Dig me out of this mess.” More tellingly, the lyrics emphasize the bond Brownstein and Tucker reforged in the band’s revival: “We can be young, and we can be old/ As long as we have each other to hold.”
“Worry With You” expands those sentiments of solidarity and kinship. It could be a simple love song, but it certainly comes across as a manifesto of togetherness under the Sleater-Kinney banner: “Oh, I’m on the other side picking up speed/ Let go of the shame and lies I don’t need/ If I’m gonna fuck up, I’m gonna fuck up with you.” It starts to feel like Brownstein and Tucker, more than any other time in their long partnership, are making music mainly to suit themselves rather than whatever expectation is out there in the niche marketplace where they reside. I’m just grateful that they let me listen, too.