The Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years
When Sleater-Kinney called it a day in 2006, wiped their collective brow and breathed deep, God knows how many hearts splintered and collapsed. Many tried but so very few had ridden out the Riot Grrrl storm of the 90s. Over a series of sinewy, spunky but ultimately cerebral, poetically polticised albums, Sleater-Kinney’s critical standing had become nigh on untouchable. But unlike, say, Bikini Kill or Huggy Bear, they rode the scene’s wave and got on with honing their crafty craft. By the time they’d left behind their 1995 debut’s wiry ziggurats for the measured trik-trak of 2002’s One Beat, they turned tail and blew the house down by signing off in 2006 with The Woods. It replaced the frantic pickery of yore with a down and dirty riffola, not so much remake and remodel as destroy and rebuild. Critics dithered but audiences grew. Pearl Jam took them on tour (Eddie Vedder is thanked on the liner notes), their influence was increasingly acknowledged and the world beckoned. Then … BAM! Over. Wholly unexpected, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss were moving on, the friendship deep and unbreakable, the horizon too inviting to ignore. Call the doctor ?
Those of us who’d tracked the whole enlivening journey held it together. Janet already had her side project (the marvellous Quasi), the prospect of Carrie finding a home for those high kicks was altogether too enticing. But what of Corin? What would we do with Corin, godamnit! She was The Lead Singer, the undisputed most glamourous position on the pitch for sure. And yet, certainly on every occasion I saw them, the ladies with short hair and the gentlemen with stroked beards saved their very loudest whoops for Ms Brownstein with her cartwheel shapes and ADHD stage manner. Despite the fact that she routinely set about removing paint from venue walls with the most fearsome yelp in popular music, Corin Tucker did so often come across as The Quiet One, unerringly modest, implacably polite – if she spoke at all – between songs.
If there was ever any doubt that Corin was the inexorable motor of the S-K machine, I urge you to check out the excellent Youtube footage of their final show in their home town of Portland, Oregon. While her band mates plough themselves into performance, a flurry of industry, tearing apart the last song they will ever play together (‘One More Hour’ – what else?), Corin flails against the rising tears, struggling to form the words. Look it up. Or, as is your want, simply seek out this invigorating debut.
It is of course, beautifully democratic and pleasingly old school that this record trades under the name of The Corin Tucker Band. The post-S-K Corin Tucker inhabits a world that is quieter and less frenetic by some distance. With less to scream about, a band who can support her ever more reflective muse is a must, players who can throw an arm around these songs that come shaded in notably more muted colours. Their names are Seth Lorinczi (keyboards and producer) and Sara Lund (drums) and they provide backing that is often delicate, often driven but always adroit, busy, sympathetic. The leap from the strictures of just electric guitars and drums to an altogether more accessible folk-rock backing is startling but irresistible.
And what of the songs? It’s not until fifth track, the searing ‘Doubt’, that we get to hear the Tucker scream in full-throated flight for the first time. But 1,000 Years is no campfire singalong. Instead it marries Tucker’s guitar (largely electric – don’t panic) to altogether looser beats. The very precise stylings of Sleater-Kinney, all jagged phrasing, riffs that didn’t fully resolve, drums and guitar at each other’s throats, all that is gone. In its place, a warmer, unforced backing. (I do a double take when it finally dawns on me that, yes, that’s a bass guitar in there.) The hooks that emerge on the wistful ‘It’s Always Summer’ and the delicate, string-laden ‘Dragon’ are beguiling and unexpected. The staccato thrum of ‘Half a World Away’ is one of the few moments that recalls Tucker’s former band, shaped like ‘One Beat’ but built from wholly different materials. There is little truck with the quick thrill. ‘Riley’, staggering from wall to wall like PJ Harvey on tartrazine, is as immediate as a gunshot but the rest of the album takes time to emerge.
The voice, with avenues of delicacy revealed fully for the first time, is as unworldly as ever, so so beautiful. Lyrically, too, there is much to probe. Tucker’s words come alive when sung. On the CD inner they appear initially bloodless but in motion they animate and possess a shimmering elegance. On the closing piano ballad ‘Miles Away’, heartbreak under the microscope, Tucker sings: “It’s been the blackest night for quiet some time / Since my love left with that heart of mine” and I’m reminded of Patti Smith’s ‘Elegy’. For once, I recommend taking a full and proper hit of the album before going near the lyric booklet; somehow these words lose a little of their sheen on the page but they fascinate when sung.
There is much here to intoxicate and, for the first time, something, maybe, for everyone. Sleater-Kinney were hardly that but Tucker’s angular take on a kind of tangled folk-rock could go further than she might imagine. If the likes of Neko Case or Nicole Atkins fire up your chilly heart, try this on for size. 1,000 Years is aflame with proof that big girls don’t cry, they just plug back in and find new ways to say what they always wanted to say. It looks like Corin Tucker’s done her crying for now and she sure has plenty to say. With the volume taken down a few notches, you’ll have to listen harder, listen smarter. But listen you must.