The Center Won’t Hold is Sleater-Kinney’s first album in four years. Prior to No Cities To Love, it had been ten years since the band contributed a studio album to the indie rock scene. Now, the band has taken a poppier, synthier swerve away from punk and into something your mom would listen to.
The titular track may be the album’s peak. Carry Brownstein sings: “I need something pretty / To help me ease my pain / I need something ugly / To put me in my place.” The subsequent tracks are a little thinner and more predictable. “Can I Go On” is reminiscent of early 2000’s indie rock, contributing nothing particularly daring or musically imaginative.
“Bad Dance” is an album highlight. It’s a little grittier and more willing to experiment, but there is still something missing. “LOVE” is a more tender moment and equates to something of a love letter to the band’s own sense of nostalgia. They recall cracking “the amp to 10” and “sleepin’ in the van.” In the third verse, they declare they are: “Tired of bein’ told that this should be the end / But fighting is the fuel and anger is a friend.” Janet Weiss may have left the band, but the remaining members sound like they are not ready to call it quits.
Brownstein also shrieks: “There’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove.” The lyrics tell a story that sits at the heart of punk and yet we can’t help but feel that the entirety of The Center Won’t Hold is trying to prove something very particular. The feeling that they are trying to hard can’t quite be shaken as if they are desperately trying to tell the world that they still have more to give.
Overall, the album isn’t bad by any means but for a Sleater-Kinney album, it’s rather disappointing. The sleek synths and fluid guitars mean the record will probably appeal to more people, but Sleater-Kinney was never meant to appeal to the masses. They have traditionally been an unstoppable force of nature, making the music they want to make, and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks. If the center of Sleater-Kinney has been their punk attitude for two decades, it’s no wonder that “the center won’t hold.”