On "Leave You Behind," the tenth track on Sleater-Kinney's All Hands on the Bad One, the guitar intro is such a friendly riff, it could double as a soundtrack for a Kermit-and-Fozzi road trip. When guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein's girly voice enters the song, it comes soothingly, like she's humming a nursery rhyme. At that moment, you're all ready for good times and open roads. Listen closely, though: "Wonder how you looked, the day you were erased/ Looked down at your heart, watched it fade." As the tune happily bounces along, the narrative continues to darken. Brownstein has finally gotten over her ex-lover, and she feels good knowing that the ex is suffering. Still, Brownstein becomes upset with herself when she runs into her old flame and allows old wounds to open up. "When you're in the room, it's all that I can feel/Get so used to loving what's not real."
On All Hands on the Bad One, Sleater-Kinney's lyrics are, as usual, the strongest instrument in a band that uses just two electric guitars and a drummer to create its trademark sound. That sound was once characterized as the work of an "all-girl punk trio" (from the stormy Northwest, no less), but here, where hard rock and sweet, polished melodies claim the majority of disc time, punk is as good as dead. Not that old habits go lightly, however: The dueling verses between Brownstein and Corin Tucker are still used as a wonderful give-and-take device, and the usual punk-rock antagonists (cops, jocks, society) still make cameos. But on this disc, Sleater-Kinney (who perform June 3 at the Bluebird Theater) stays largely away from the genre's well-tapped mine, venturing instead into soft places ("The Ballad of a Ladyman"), hard places ("Ironclad") and in-between places, as on "Milkshake and Honey," a funky, awkward tribute to the Purple One. Considering the band's limited musicianship, the sheer range of All Hands on the Bad One is phenomenal.
On "Leave You Behind," Brownstein concludes by gleefully pondering the existence of her suffering lover: "Did you disappear?/Were you just misplaced?/Left behind with no one else to blame."
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She could just as easily be talking about those punky shackles.