- SPIN Rating:7 of 10
Label: Kill Rock Stars
"Don't you want to play with the big boys?" Corin Tucker teases on the wonderfully titled "Summer Jams." Translation: Get on her level. With PJ Harvey and Youssou N'Dour somewhat in remission, Tucker possesses the only active larynx that can match Kurt Cobain's throat-dissolving coda to Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" for sheer transcendent intensity. So what if her former Sleater-Kinney cohorts — Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, both the toast of 2011 via spirited but inferior-by-comparison offshoot band Wild Flag — could probably beat her at SongPop?
No, Tucker's music gives no indication that she's aware of Animal Collective or tUnE-yArDs, much less fun.'s "We Are Young" or Tyga's "Rack City," all artists who are prime candidates for guest spots on a future season of Brownstein's Portlandia, a satire requiring some awareness that hipsters are currently ruining pop and vice versa. During her ex-romantic and musical partner's world-absorbing journey from NPR curmudgeon to alt-comedy heroine, Tucker turned inward and penned her most diaristic accounts ever, exploring the various strains that rock'n'roll gigs put on a family on 1,000 Years, her underrated softie of a 2010 solo debut, credited to the Corin Tucker Band. (This woman loves classic rock so much she named her son after Marshall Tucker.)
Thing is, despite Brownstein's Madonna- and Guitar Hero-hating rep as Sleater-Kinney's jocular half, Tucker has always had a more impressive ease. Her every quavering vocal falls into a familiar rhythm without ever seeming rote; her chords fit together surely, but always call you back for another listen.One of Tucker's lesser works only by process of elimination — seven years on, those S-K classics don't budge — her second album is a solid argument for rockism in a year when EDM ran unopposed.
Like Britt Daniel's punkish new Divine Fits record, Kill My Blues reveals the charms of a deceptively catchy tunesmith proving she can rock again. It's consistent and fast and surprisingly layered: You'll remember the piano on the slightly "Hotel California"-esque "Blood, Bones and Sand," and the ba-ba-bas that underscore the ascending drill-riff driving the chorus to "None Like You." Two-minute standout "No Bad News Tonight" is a simple and plain R.E.M. homage. And the Corin Tucker Band actually functions as such: Her taste for Sara Lund's danceable drums proves that our leader's underrated rhythmic skill remains intact.
As for that world-class wail, Tucker is mostly resting it, staying squarely in the playful cadence of S-K's candylike All Hands on the Bad One (see her enunciation of the word "flamingo" on opener "Groundhog Day"). Still, it can erupt in the oddest places, like the spacy organ jam "Constance" after hushed verses, but she's never verging on tears or fighting the mix (or her bandmates) for space. Her best work didn't always do that either, but without that discomfiting undercurrent, these songs can sound curiously anonymous. Even the squawkiest-in-show "I Don't Wanna Go" sounds like Tucker might be persuaded if there's an open bar.
But if this is as thin as Tucker stretches herself, we're in good shape — she's still never made a bad record. 1,000 Years was more direct, and at its worst, Kill My Blues indulges in too much Townshend-esque noodling, but at its best, it proves that one of alt-rock's greatest howlers can operate at full power even without pushing herself to detonation. Can the big boys do that?