Hearts of Glass

But on Sleater-Kinney's way less innocent Hot Rock, love can make or break a band, stand up against the millennium, even stand up against death. The opening track, "Start Together," starts off the way all S-K first songs do, an epic call to arms by lovers not fighters. Corin calls herself a mess but a good one, like Luscious Jackson in "Energy Sucker." But one on one, love tears her apart again— some things you lose, some things you give away. And it's always the heart.

The title track compares relationships to jewelry heists, where you're trying to figure out your partner in crime as well as the mission itself. When Carrie sings, "You tell me not to steal yet you want a thief," her road trip and her partner's ever-changing moods remind me of Liz Phair in "Divorce Song": "You put in my hand a loaded gun and then told me not to fire it." In other words, be careful what you wish for.

"Don't Talk Like" sounds like a drunken e-mail, or the answer on the back of an emotional Trivial Pursuit card. It's the most indie song on the album, all droney and discordant with no momentum, the sound of someone gritting her teeth— or worse, shrugging her shoulders. It's like the band is pretending less is more, when really less is less. And "God Is a Number" is another great idea that's kind of unlistenable. It reminds me how our nervous systems don't seem to be made for these times, how everybody needs antidepressants just to keep up with technology. Our ghosts are in the machine and can't get out: Herky-jerky Throwing Muses guitar wires tangle up and don't go anywhere.

Have they come undone?
Charles Peterson
Have they come undone?

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The much dancier "Banned From the End of the World," the first Y2K song I've actually liked, is a smarter solution: "Banned from the end of the world I've no millennial fear. The future is here, it comes every year," Carrie sings breathlessly. Then Corin chimes in, asking to be thrown out when the party's over like it's 1999.

Carrie is a good foil; she's Jane Wiedlin to Corin's Belinda Carlisle. Her "The Size of Our Love" is the saddest of the sad: "Our love is the size of this hospital room, you're my hospital groom." But Corin's "Get Up" makes death sound like a relief, like a passage to some higher plane. And her "Living in Exile" reminds me of the poem Angela wrote on My So-Called Life about the sleeping little girl with the gingerbread house that collapses and then she wakes up. "One day I woke up, it was gone, the castle kingdom, all were lost," Corin's voice climbs— she's changed, but for the better? "I know my heart is my worst enemy. Swallowed too much of it and started to believe."

I'm trying to avoid mentioning Madonna or Courtney, but this is a pretty spiritual record. Sleater-Kinney can only find themselves by breaking down first: "It's like goin' to pieces could fix everything, at this point I'm really me." That's in "A Quarter to Three," which ends The Hot Rock where all relationships end, waiting by the phone. When Corin comes undone, you don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing.And neither does she.

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