It was 20 years ago today…March 1996

Sleater-Kinney: Call the Doctor

Call the Doctor is the second album by Olympia punk icons Sleater-Kinney, and their first as the co-singers main bands (Corin Tucker having previously frunted Heavens to Betsy and Carrie Brownstien previously being in Excuse 17). The album’s 12 tracks were recorded in just four days. The songs predominantly feature themes of people struggling in their personal lives, with themes universal enough that fans could find ample reasons to relate. As such, Call the Doctor was ranked as one of the 100 greatest albums of the 90s by Rolling Stone.

With 12 songs and just a few seconds over 30 minutes, there are only two songs that reach to/past the three minute mark. The first track on the album also carries the title of “Call the Doctor” and features dueling guitars and immediately identifiable vocal harmonies. The song tackles society’s need to “socialize” and “steralize” by featuring observations such as “All my life is right before me/can’t tell any more the real parts”. The song attempts, but never really substantiates, to equare society offering people more with making everybody the same. While it is true that there are “ideal” of how a person should look/behave, those ideals may not ring true for everybody, and I think that is what this song is trying to display.

Track 4 on the album, titled “Anonymous”, is about a woman who is realizing that she threw her life away to be a wife, giving up her own identity for that of her husband. It features one of the more humorous lines on the album, if not in the entire Sleater-Kinney catalogue. One line in particular stands out, stating “she swallowed the spider to catch the fly/I don’t know why she swallowed that lie”. The song hues fairly close to the standardized “Sleater-Kinney sound”, if such a thing can be said to exist. But, by identifying being a spouse with giving up your identity, Tucker & Brownstein stake their claim against the outdated idea that a woman needs to be associated with a man in order to have value.

Track 6, titled “Good Things”, features several lines making clear the meaning of the song, discintly about an impending breakup. “Why do good things never wanna stay/some things you lose, some things you give away”. “Is it worth it/will it make me sick again?” This song has stealthily become one of my most listened to Sleater-Kinney tracks in my itunes. The line “some things you lose…” was even ripped off wholsale by Jack Off Jill’s track “Strawberry Gashes”, which is a song about a woman with destructive tendencies. Perhaps the line of their song was a reference to Sleater-Kinney’s lyrics…

Side two of the LP starts with one of my favorite Sleater-Kinney tracks, the indomitable (unless of course, it is accidentally domited) “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”. It features everything that came to be recognized as hallmarks of the S-K sound. Staccato lyrical delivery, easily digested lyrics, and a dual guitar and vocal attack that entwines around one another. The song itself has two meanings. On one level, Corin Tucker wants to bring meaning to future generations in the same way that Joey Ramone did during his peak. On another level, she is describing the double standard within the music buisness that it is more common for male rock stars to garner attention and idol worship than it is for females with the same level of talent.

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” was the first track I had ever heard by Sleater-Kinney and it started me on a 20 year journey that brought me from there to here. Sleater-Kinney have become punk/riot grrl/queercore/rock icons in the years since their inception. After going on hiatus for several years, they came back in early 2015 with one of the best albums of the year and sounded like they never missed a moment. Carrie Brownstein made her name as a comedic actress on Portlandia. Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss formed a group called Wild Flag. Janet Weiss was the drummer for albums for Bright Eyes and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Yet, it was when they got back together after doing their own thing that they realized that to several people they had become their generations equivalent of Joey Ramone.


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