RAGE seems a fact of modern life. It's so commonplace on both sides of the aisle that the tension that underpinned Sleater-Kinney's One Beat, one of the most prominent protest albums of the George W. Bush era, now sounds almost restrained.
Fans expected that same rage on The Centre Won't Hold, but it erupts only in the title track. Corin Tucker's wail lacks none of its punch, but it is perhaps the last familiar footing.
The album, which retroactively became a marker at the end of Janet Weiss's tenure with the band, is uninterested in retreading ground. It trades rage for a nuanced mix of sadness, total despair, faint hope and manic surrender.
"My heart wants the ugliest things," Brownstein observes on Restless, which shows off the soul of a Hot Rock era guitar gem.
Swinging between love and loathing, the glowering mania of Hurry on Home and Reach Out's loping paean balance isolation and overstimulation. Can I Go On hits the wall; finally tired, finally empty. By The Dog/The Body, there's euphoria in both unity and reprieve from the onslaught.
A band this good can afford to take on a fight without their best weapons, namely Carrie Brownstein's post-punk guitar and their trademark roar. Weiss's playing (almost guaranteed for over-analysis) is steady but rarely showy on the largely mid-tempo album. It's only as much a curveball as The Woods was before it was canonised in the band's lengthy hiatus.
There's less immediate catharsis, but that's part of digging deeper into the questions. The gyre has widened, things have fallen apart, but Sleater-Kinney remain bold and intriguing.