Own It or Disown It: #260: Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out

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The breakout album from the best American rock band of the past twenty years turned twenty years old this month.

What’s nuts and frustrating when talking about a band that has never made a bad album is it isn’t easy to heap superlative praise on their breakthrough or regard it as “the part where they got good”. 1997’s Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney’s breakout third album, wasn’t even the first great Sleater-Kinney album—that distinction goes to their previous effort, 1996’s Call the Doctor. It also doesn’t represent a significant shift in the band’s approach to music—Dig Me Out is the first Sleater-Kinney album to feature Janet Weiss on drums, but it wasn’t like previous drummer Lora MacFarlane was a slouch in the role, and the band wouldn’t start embracing tougher rock compositions until 1999’s The Hot Rock. It all begs the question of why this was the breakthrough instead of what came before or after it, and honestly, I think the answer is as simple as people catching on right about here through word of mouth and happenstance and that one SPIN interview.

If Dig Me Out is the best album of Sleater-Kinney’s “punk years”, it isn’t because it is leaps and bounds better than what came before it. To compare this to Call the Doctor amounts to that the writing and execution are better across the board with no discernable difference in themes or attitude. It is better, though, with the title track, “One More Hour”, and “Little Babies” remaining fan favorites twenty years and five albums later. Describing the sound of it all is much like describing the five albums that followed (Tucker’s voice is incredible, Brownstein’s guitar work is fantastic, and Weiss is a fucking machine) save for that difference in subgenre.

The problem with Sleater-Kinney as a punk group is that knowing the sound they would eventually embrace makes these earlier goings suffer in comparison. Future SK would see the group occupying a greater space with their sound, but with thirteen tracks over thirty-six minutes, Dig Me Out’s offerings sometimes feel as though it ends right when the great part is about to start. This has nothing to do with a distaste for punk rock and more with that their approach to songwriting isn’t mosh pit material. “One More Hour” is a great song, but you’re not going to break stuff while listening to it. That said, Sleater-Kinney are so damn good at making music that they’re even good at making music that doesn’t fit their approach to music, so if you haven’t given this album a chance yet, take steps to fix that oversight. Heck, listen to all of their albums. Dig Me Out isn’t the best rock album of 1997 due to that damn OK Computer, but Sleater-Kinney at their worst is better than Radiohead at their worst. Hot take Downey, they call me.

VERDICT: OWN

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.

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