Inside the Heart Factory: Dig Me Out Turns 20

Post-grunge was essentially a genre dedicated to uncertainty: where do we go now on a musical front? It seemed all our alternative rock heroes in 1997 were male – Oasis, Weezer, Pavement, et al. Then Sleater-Kinney came along and emphasised that you could have a female three-piece potent enough to rebel against gender roles, consumerism and male-hegemonistic hierarchy.

Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, which was released 20 years ago next month, was the perceptible, perhaps serendipitous, shift from underground to mainstream. The development was signified in their angular brand of punk. The trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and new member Janet Weiss adopted a more brutal, rockier hubbub for Dig Me Out, erasing the lo-fi sound that commanded their identity and presented them with critical praise from early on.

It is no doubt that Sleater-Kinney are a critics’ band, yet contrarily in a more favourable way. They weren’t platitudinous or immersed in irony, they were always the band of the moment – they always had something to say of the utmost importance relating to prevalent social issues that directly affected women. It needs stressed that, at the time, the only all-female band with a motto, or of significant importance, was L7. Sleater-Kinney were the next band almost half a decade later – it took that long to establish a band who had an array of vital topics to unravel in a stupendously urgent manner.

Dig Me Out is perhaps short by design. With 13 songs at 36 minutes, it is not like each song blends into one. The interchanging vocals of Tucker and Brownstein create startling two-part harmonies in Words in Guitar and One More Hour, and the collaborative guitar work of the two has an enduring influence on any teenage bedroom learner, but the main spectacle is the ferocity and unmediated exertion of their lyrical output.

The album is reportedly said to have a lyrical theme surrounding Tucker and Brownstein’s romantic relationship which sunk after the release of their previous album, Call the Doctor. Yet if you assess the lyrics, there’s more of an invasion of privacy that Spin were accused of in the late 90’s. The vocal interplay of One More Hour, which extensively discusses the relationship between Tucker and Brownstein, draws in a startling reaction from listeners when both singers have polar opposite melodies: Brownstein with a baritone-esque voice and Tucker yelping ‘I needed it!’ almost to the point of tears.

The real beauty behind Dig Me Out is the refined musicality. Sleater-Kinney have never had a bass guitarist in their band and actively avoid utilising the instrument in their music. The producer of the album, John Goodmanson, claimed it was beneficial not to have bass because it meant the two guitars of Tucker and Brownstein could be augmented while they bounced off each other. This type of band structure was never on record before: Brownstein structured a plethora of simple and intricate riffs on Dig Me Out, while Tucker trudged along with an octave vibrato alongside her bandmate. No bass meant optimum fuzz on two guitars with a set of amplifiers bulging and toiling to not blow its 50-watt fuse.

Dig Me Out is somewhat the album that saved Sleater-Kinney’s career. With two great albums prior to its release struggling to make significant impact on an indie label and scene commercially, they moved to a feminist label called Kill Rock Stars. Dig Me Out had such vast critical acclaim and sold over six times more than its predecessor that they couldn’t even consider being dropped from a label. It set them up for a consistent career as one of the most dependable rock bands before their demise in 2006, only to reunite eight years later with more to say about social issues again. It still boasts a lingering influence. With bands like PINS and Chastity Belt saving the genre of riot-grrrl, it’s all thanks to Dig Me Out.

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