June 14, 2021

Sleater-Kinney Path to Wellness is Boring for Us


So, after a month of constant new music and reviews, I took a week off from new posts. It’s summer and there is much partying to do. As such, my batteries were completely recharged when the new Sleater-Kinney album, Path to Wellness, dropped this week. Unfortunately, their path to wellness is our road to dullsville. The album lacks any of the energy we come to expect from the progenitors of the riot grrls. S-K was punk and grunge and Riot Grrls. They were loud, angry, and feminist. This was a band that came from the Seattle scene in the 90s. Now, they are just boring. Maybe if Carrie Brownstein spent less time on TV and more on music, this would have been better. Heck, her Portlandia co-star Fred Armisen makes better music than this.

The best description for this album is old-rich music. It’s the kind of music that upper class, middle-aged people would make. Inwardly focused, lacking in angst or anger, and unadventurous. I suppose that the lyrics are meant to be “introspective” or “meaningful” or some such rot, but they are wrapped in a sonic version of the kind of brown paper used for paper bags. Functional but duller than dirt.

Path to Wellness starts off badly with the title track. “Path to Wellness” the song lacks energy of any sort. Not joy and not anger. Just… nothing. The synths make the song sound new wave rather than punk or grunge but not in a good way. That’s a recurring complaint I have with Path to Wellness. The songs often sound like bad retro music. “Favorite neighbor”, about halfway through the album, sounds like an outtake from a lesser Lena Lovich album. The jerky vocals and repetitive guitar riffs work for Lovich because of the dash of humor, weirdness, and social commentary in her songs. For S-K, it just ends up being a misfire. “Method” is practically jangle pop complete with jangly guitars. Unfortunately, it’s not good jangle pop because it’s so boring. The best jangle pop – think REM or Let’s Active – makes you want to drive fast or dance. “Method” does neither. Instead, it made me want to stop listening to this album altogether.

Some songs make me worry about the mental health of the band. “Tomorrow’s Grave” is supposed to be … scary? Spooky, reverb laden guitars with mostly inaudible spoken and sung lyrics give the impression of a Halloween novelty song. For a song like that to come out of the band that gave us “Dig Me Out” is terrifying. The song itself is not.

“High in the Grass” is the only song on the album that sounds even remotely like a S-K song. It has that classic grunge pattern of a loud, bombastic start, followed by a calm melodic bit, then back to the loud part again. Think “Doll Parts” in reverse. “Complex Female Characters” is saved by a loud, aggressive guitar riff without which the song would be nearly soft rock. If you don’t think S-K is capable of that, then listen to “Shadow Town.” It’s really a soft rock song sung by a punk vocalist. Think Sid Vicious doing “My Way” but without the ridiculousness that makes that song fun to listen to.

Path to Wellness is a massive misfire for one of the all-time best grunge and riot grrls bands. At it’s best, it’s boring, repetitive, and a parody of their earlier work. In its worse moments, Path to Wellness sounds like a collection of novelty songs from decidedly unfunny people. I had hoped for so much more.