MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For more than 20 years, drummer Janet Weiss was the backbone of the indie punk rock trio Sleater-Kinney. No longer - Weiss announced this summer she's leaving the band. It'll go on tour this fall without her, but they are leaving behind one final album with Weiss. It's called "The Center Won't Hold," and our reviewer Will Hermes says it is both a fitting capstone and a promising start to a brand-new chapter.
WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Corin Tucker's voice is a rock 'n' roll typhoon. And when she lets loose on the title track of Sleater-Kinney's new album, it's clear the band's power remains Category 5.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CENTER WON'T HOLD")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) The center won't hold. No, the center won't hold. The center won't hold. No, the center won't hold. The center won't hold. No, the center won't hold. The center won't hold. No, no, the center won't hold.
HERMES: That line - the center won't hold - paraphrases William Butler Yeats. It's a fitting statement for our current body politic and for the band.
As a longtime Sleater-Kinney fan, Janet Weiss' departure hurts. She's one of rock's all-time greatest drummers, as thrilling to watch and as key to her band's power as Keith Moon was for The Who. This is Sleater-Kinney performing their song "Dig Me Out" in Paris in 2015.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLEATER-KINNEY SONG, "DIG ME OUT")
HERMES: Sleater-Kinney have always been a power trio and a girl gang, with Weiss both grounding and propelling her younger bandmates. And the group won't be the same without her. But the new album shows a band that, after 25 years, is still evolving. And that's a promising sign. It's co-produced by Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent. And while the grooves tilt towards the electronic, the songs still pulse with blood. This one, titled "Love," conjures the 1990s punk band touring America on the cheap.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Calling card is empty, sleeping in the van. But things are looking better. We're only down a grand. Been to every state from New York to insane. If I turn up any louder, I won't know my own name. What?
HERMES: Sleater-Kinney's nostalgia is shattered by the present. Characters in their songs are angry and scared. The song "Broken" conjures the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. And this one, titled "The Future Is Now," (ph) is a gothy (ph) ballad about smartphones and alienation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FUTURE IS HERE")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I end my day on a tiny screen. I try to reach for you through the empty sheets. I close my eyes and try to find some piece of what's left of us and who we used to be.
HERMES: Ultimately, "The Center Won't Hold" is optimistic, like Sleater-Kinney's music always is. Its rage and sorrow is the source of its strength, and the band still creates space where fans can share that strength. For now, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker aren't closing shop. Fans can still share that space when Sleater-Kinney tour this fall. So here's a toast to the next chapter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD DANCE")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) Be the weapon, be the love. Be the weapon, be the love.
KELLY: Sleater-Kinney's new album, "The Center Won't Hold," is out now. Our reviewer, Will Hermes, is the author of "Love Goes To Buildings on Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD DANCE")
SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) If the world is ending now, then let's dance the bad dance. We've been rehearsing our whole lives. And if... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.