In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When Sleater-Kinney reunited for the first time in 2015, they commented on the riot grrrl movement for an interview with The Cut.
For [guitarist Corin] Tucker, riot grrrl isn’t a dirty word. “I was definitely part of riot grrrl in Olympia,” she said. “For me, that was about having this really supportive group of women that wanted to do art — that was fanzines, that was music, it was spoken word, it was visual art — and that we would support each other and make a larger space for women’s voices in the world.
Tucker said, “For us, the lyrics are really tied to our beliefs and our desire to change things – that’s really the scene that we came from, is all about sincerely being angry and wanting to use music to change the world, basically,”
Now, as they prepare to release a new album, I’m hopeful that a change in this world is on the horizon. There is a riot grrrl in all of us, and now is the time to be heard.
All of the members in the powerful trio started in other bands that were foundational and influential in the riot grrrl and indie rock scenes in their own rights. Prior to the formation of Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker was in Heavens to Betsy, Carrie Brownstein was in Excuse 17, and Janet Weiss was in Quasi. Now Sleater-Kinney has to reconsider their identity, forced to replace their drummer after Janet Weiss decided to move on from the band’s new sound. Weiss planned to tour with Quasi, before a car accident required some recuperation time, while Sleater-Kinney tours on its new album.
Sleater-Kinney have performed a variety of covers throughout their career. Here we choose some that span the timeline of the band’s discography.
Sleater-Kinney – More Than a Feeling (Boston cover)
Released on a compilation album Move Into the Villa Villakula in 1996, this is a loose interpretation of a cover done early on in Sleater-Kinney’s career, before the trio had stabilized. The tune starts out matching the chorus of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” albeit at a slower, almost plodding, pace. The chorus lyrics are loosely based on the original’s. The first iteration’s matches pretty closely, swapping “when I hear that old song they used to play” with “when I hear that old song that you sang to me.” Then the pace changes, ramping up to some new lyrics, screamed and raw. The second round of the chorus veers even further from the original. No longer hinting that this cover will be different, Sleater-Kinney asserts their own darker vision of the song: “when I hear those same words that you said to me, I started screaming, but you couldn’t hear anything.” Although Boston’s version contains some of the same element,s such as guitar solos and even a little screaming, their version seems to fit into the easy listening category when compared to Sleater-Kinney’s fervency.
New albums up until this point: Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor
Sleater-Kinney – Rock Lobster (The B-52s cover)
To ring in the New Year of 1998, Sleater-Kinney covered this quirky B-52’s song with help from Calvin Johnson, another major player in the music scene of Olympia, Washington, the North Star for riot grrrls. The cover is a faithful one with spot-on sound effects from the “ew”s to the “ah”s. “Rock Lobster” scored The B-52’s its first Billboard Hot 100 song. It took ten more years for “Love Shack” to enter the scene. (Now that’s a song I’d love to hear Sleater-Kinney cover.) By the time this cover was performed, The B-52’s were on a recording hiatus, not to return until 2008 when they rebranded by dropping the apostrophe and becoming The B-52s.
New albums up until this point: Dig Me Out
Later on, Sleater-Kinney brings this cover back in 2015 after a hiatus of their own. This time the song is performed with Fred Armisted, Carrie Brownstein’s co-star in the TV show Portlandia. Portlandia was a project Brownstein took on during the Sleater-Kinney hiatus that started in 2006, following their album “In the Woods.” Sleater-Kinney reunited in 2015 and released “No Cities to Love.”
Sleater-Kinney – Angry Inch (Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell cover)
Clearly early fans of The B-52’s, Sleater-Kinney teamed up with the band’s lead singer, Fred Schneider, to work on a tribute album for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, whose proceeds went to support a school for LGBTQ youth. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical that became a movie, tells the story of gender identity amidst a post-war, divided Germany. The original sounds like a typical rock song, albeit about an atypical topic, a “botched” sex change. Sleater-Kinney’s cover is instrumentally very similar, but the real contrast comes from the vocals. The original is sung with a bit of resignation, but Sleater-Kinney’s version is delivered stridently, bordering on piercingly. Hear some live clips here.
New albums up until this point: The Hot Rock, All Hands on the Bad One, One Beat
Sleater-Kinney – Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
Sleater-Kinney shows its political side by dedicating this song to the “ultimate fortunate son, George W. Bush.” The beginning’s guitar and percussion starts off a bit generic, but then we hear the iconic intro. Corin’s powerful voice supplies the verses, the lyrics delivered like a battle cry. Carrie joins in for the chorus and both throw out a caustic “I ain’t no fortunate one.” Throughout, the recognizable intro lick receives less reverence, played rebelliously a little off key. In the original, the percussion takes a backseat, but in Sleater-Kinney’s version, the drums play an active and audible role throughout. Weiss also gets a turn to show off her rhythmic prowess with a drum solo towards the end of the song, unobscured by the guitar or vocals. See Sleater-Kinney invite the audience on stage with them for a live cover here.
Sleater-Kinney – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (Richard and Linda Thompson cover)
Richard Thompson’s first album with Linda, who had sung on his first album and then became his wife, included this song as the title track. Although the album did not receive much attention when it was first released in 1974, it received more recognition over time. Rolling Stone included the album in its list of top 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003, and Cover Me discussed it in 2011. In 2005, Sleater-Kinney created a cover version that is simple and sincere in its interpretation. There is not as much edge as you might expect, although the vocals highlight the weariness that the lyrics allude to. The original’s brass accompaniment is replaced in favor of simple guitar and a percussive backbeat. As this cover came out about a year before the band’s hiatus was announced, it’s easy to speculate about some foreshadowing with this song choice. “I’m so tired of working every day. Now the weekend’s come I’m gonna throw my troubles away.”
New albums up until this point: The Woods
Remaining Albums: No Cities to Love, The Center Won’t Hold
Want to hear more covers? Stereogum can help you out. Want to hear more originals? Check out the essentials. Want to learn more about the history of the band? Read Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.