Not for a while has a band been as consistently jaw-dropping as Sleater-Kinney. Over the course of just a few albums, the trio has established itself as an intractable force in indie-rock, an entity whose greatness is a given discussed in terms of degrees, not disagreements. Considering how fast the band has evolved, it's no wonder that it's taken a year to mark The Hot Rock as a stepping stone rather than another hurled boulder. That album found Sleater-Kinney exploring the studio more than ever before, and if the tonal nuance of the disc ultimately proved less lethal than Call The Doctor or Dig Me Out, it did demonstrate that Sleater-Kinney was aware of its need to progress. All Hands On The Bad One, the group's fifth album in six years, reunites Sleater-Kinney with producer John Goodmanson, who knows not to mess with a good thing. With phenomenal drummer Janet Weiss now singing, as well, the trio has become a highly dynamic bundle of balanced give-and-take. Corin Tucker's Belinda Carlisle vibrato has never sounded better—check out that sarcastic sneer!—while Carrie Brownstein's straight counterpoint keeps the songs grounded in punk-rock fury. Yet what makes All Hands On The Bad One so distinctive is Sleater-Kinney's dedication to craft as well as spontaneous passion: Song for song, this could be its best album. "The Ballad Of A Ladyman" is a snide statement of purpose ("I gotta rock!") before "Ironclad" delivers the fuzzed-out riffs and pounding fills. A subtle Goth streak runs through this music, the dark guitar overtones and minor chords lending songs such as the title track and "Was It A Lie?" a particularly dark edge. Of course, "You're No Rock 'n' Roll Fun" isn't above alluding to The Who, proving that Sleater-Kinney is more than just gender politics and pent-up anger. Even the lyrics, alternately obvious and powerful, fit perfectly: All the references to playing music somehow never get tired, right down to Brownstein's searing "The Professional," which could very well be aimed at rock critics. But Brownstein has a right to complain about those who complain, because All Hands On The Bad One is better than anyone deserves.
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