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“With each note, I return”: Corin Tucker comes back to music, thank goodness.

November 8, 2010

It’s always an exercise in mixed emotions when you learn that a member of a beloved band is coming out with a solo project. So many thoughts go through your head: What if it sucks? Does this mean she/he will never be in that band again? What if it’s better than the stuff with the band? If it’s really bad will it taint my love for their non-solo stuff? It’s truly harrowing, dear readers. So you can imagine the waves of excitement and fear, of anticipation and trepidation, that swept over me when I read that Corin Tucker – 1/3 of Sleater-Kinney, one of my favorite bands of all times – was working on a solo album. After more than 4 years of post-indefinite hiatus silence, Tucker was going to be releasing music again and I mostly couldn’t wait. Mostly. But there was the fear of potential suckage. And for me to worry about that made me feel immediately disloyal. Hadn’t I loved pretty much every damn musical thing Corin Tucker had been a part of  since I first heard that Heavens To Betsy demo tape back in 1993? She clearly had magic even with those rudimentary dorm room recordings, so what was there to worry about? Well, not to be a jerk, but there’s the whole parenthood thing first of all. I know, I know it sounds horrible and mean, but many a fantastic musician has gone into boring/precious territory once they start being in the family way. And while I assumed it wouldn’t just be an alternate take on S-K – that would actually be a little sad, to be honest – I was worried that it might all be lullabies and the like. Especially when I read that Tucker was describing the record as a “middle-aged mom record”.

Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. But I have to admit, I was a tad resistant when I first laid ears on 1,000 Years by The Corin Tucker Band. This is partially due to the fact that the free MP3 that we all got to download before the album came out is for song “Doubt”, a fantastic song, don’t get me wrong! But it’s super full-out rockin’ and has a bit of an S-K-esque vibe to it. And, in comparison to the bulk of the album, it’s a bit of a trickster tune. But I totally get why that was our first taste – it’s different enough that it doesn’t sound like a Sleater-Kinney cast-off but not so different that people will run for the hills because it’s not a familiar enough sonic offering from Ms. Tucker. So when I first listened to the entire album and heard a lot of acoustic and strings and less of The Voice, I was a little put-off. But upon further listenins, the album started pulling me in like a siren lures a ship to the rocks. There’s a lot more hush to the album than one might expect from something involving Corin Tucker. But if we’d all been paying attention to Sleater-Kinney songs like “A Quarter To Three” or “The Swimmer” or “Night Light” then we knew that Tucker was just as interested in vulnerability as she was in bombast. In fact, as a long-time fan of Corin Tucker and her mighy voice, it’s highly satisfying to hear what total control she has over that impressive instrument of hers. She can go from hushed and fragile to full-throated and booming in the blink of an eye and it all sounds fucking fantastic. And it turns out that the songs on the album that are the most unlike her previous work are the ones that I am the most in love with.

The opening title track acts as a framework for the whole album, as Corin sings about finding her way back from a less-than-whole existence without music: “Who is that zombie that is wearing Mommy’s clothes?/I want the woman/Want her back/Want her whole/With each song I get closer/With each note I return” she sings over strummed acoustic guitar, tremolo-drenched riffs and muted, throbbing drums and hand claps. Tucker’s never been one to write clean, uncomplicated songs and the album is loaded with messy, difficult moments like this one – knowing her past in Sleater-Kinney and her current life as a stay-at-home-mother of two makes the aforementioned lyrics all the more harrowing. And rewarding. Hearing Tucker sing her way back to this part of her life that was missing is as bracing and exciting as it was to hear her sing about the broken romantic relationship she once had with Carrie Brownstein as she was standing three feet away from her onstage. And she’s neither throwing away her current life or trying to escape back to what she had before, she’s merely finding a tricky balance of all of those parts.

Further prickly, difficult moments are explored on the Slits-esque “Half a World Away” and the lushly acoustic “It’s Always Summer” when Tucker gives vent to the difficulties of having a spouse who spends a lot of his time working on the other side of the planet. But, in true Corin Tucker fashion, she never fully gives in to melancholia or self-pity, instead preferring to explore the push-and-pull that even functioning relationships have. But it’s “Miles Away”, the closing track to 1,000 Years, that provides the most breathtaking moment on this impressive collection of songs. Backed with only a piano and some sparsely strummed acoustic guitar, Corin Tucker reminds us that she is one of the reigning queens of longing and heartache, showing off just how powerful her voice can be when she’s at her most subdued and nuanced.

On the aforementioned “Doubt”, Tucker sings of how she “Turned down the sound to try to live without/I’m grey nothing, I’m washed out”. But lucky for her and for us she came out of that grey nothing and reminded us all what a musical force she is. And as much as I am excited beyond belief that both she and Carrie Brownstein have expressed lots of openness to a Sleater-Kinney reunion (yes please please please please x 1000!!!) , I have to say that I’ll be interested to hear what else Corin Tucker has to say on her own. I have a feeling it will always be worth listening to no matter where she’s at.

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