Sleater Kinney - Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)
Dig Me Out is 100% one of my all-time favorite albums.
Most of the retrospectives in this series have been about explaining albums through the frame of what was going on when I encountered them in my life.
I am not sure I have a specific set of stories to tell about Dig Me Out.
Dig me Out is just a really great album by one of the best bands ever.
I do not say this lightly, I mean what I am saying.
Sleater Kinney are one of the best bands ever.
They are great when they record, they are great when they play live, and they have always had incredible things to say through their music.
They also had one of the strongest three album arcs ever (Sleater Kinney, Call the Doctor, Dig Me Out).
Discovering Sleater Kinney’s third album “Dig Me Out’ is kind of like the feeling of finding out spontaneously that your new really talented, really smart, socially conscious significant other also gives the best backrubs in the entire world.
Because with Dig Me Out, SK started to flip the switch.
Flipping the Switch
SK’s first and second albums took a sledgehammer to myths about sex, gender, and rock and roll music.
Listening to either the first album (Sleater Kinney) or the second album (Call the Doctor) was both emotionally exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
Take 100 parts anger, add 100 parts wisdom, plus add really great playing, and the result was catharsis.
It sounds like an exaggeration to say that the world seemed different to me after hearing ‘Call the Doctor’ but it really changed music for me.
But there was no band of women that could walk in any performance venue, in front of any band, and drop the mic in front of every rock band in the world until after Call the Doctor was released.
No offense at all to The Runaways, they rocked and shattered myths about women and music, but they did not release the best album produced in any of the years they existed.
Call the Doctor was that fucking good.
It said things nobody had ever said while playing music that was so intense it almost seemed to catch fire when you listened to it.
No offense to Bikini Kill and other Riot Grrrl bands, they were coproductive with Sleater Kinney and shared politics and points of view, but they just were not as good at playing music or singing (or songwriting) as Sleater Kinney were (I still listen to Call the Doctor every few weeks and I cannot remember the last time I listened to a full Bikini Kill album).
So, it was a shock when Dig Me Out came out, because it was still very intense, but it also was poppy and catchy.
In other words, it proved SK had it all.
Dig Me Out
I will talk more about Call the Doctor in another piece, but, this is about Dig Me Out.
One thing that should be noted immediately is Dig Me Out was the first album with Janet Weiss playing drums...and that is a really good thing. I am a drummer, and she is…..well, a great drummer.
An incredible rock drummer.
So, anyway, what happens when you take a band that good at focused intense anger (and often playfulness as well) and make a more pop album?
I seriously could not believe Dig Me Out could come out of the same band that made Call the Doctor. Do not get me wrong, it still rocks, it still is political, and it still is occasionally angry, but, you can tap your toes to it.
Really, the whole album is catchy as hell. Like hum along catchy (in the best possible good way).
Think about the song "One More Hour."
It is a really emotionally vulnerable song about intimacy and breaking up (actually about two of the members of the band breaking up their romantic relationship) but with an almost impossibly bouncy guitar hook.
You want to hear it again and again and again even though it has sadness at its heart.
And every song on ‘Dig Me Out’ is great, not good, great.
How many bands put out even one album that is great from first cut to last cut - Sleater Kinney had two (and several of their later albums were very good).
And it is really rare that a band puts out two great albums that have entirely different feels to them (Call the Doctor is all face melting power and guttural scream while Dig Me Out is catchy and all about making its points through winks and nods).
And here is the thing, yes, other bands made more money (often a truckload more).
Other bands were more popular at the time (and probably now).
But shouldn’t you really decide the battle by looking at who you would still listen to today?
There is nobody from the 1995 - 2000 period that I listen to more now than SK. And, the album I listen to the most often is Dig Me Out (often on repeat).
If I was forced to be on a desert island.
Yes, that odd desert island with stereo and playback equipment and electricity.
If I was forced to live on a desert island and I could only bring a few albums from this period, I would bring Dig Me Out for 100% sure (and probably Call the Doctor as well).
Reflections On A Period
I think about this period often.
I was totally into Nirvana and they were great, but I don’t listen to any Nirvana album as much now as I did then (did they have 2 great albums? I dunno - they had twenty great songs.
BTW, a bit sad it is 20 years since In Utero was released since I saw them on that tour (God I am OLD).
I loved early Smashing Pumpkins and I think I have dug out Gish out of my stacks once this year.
I liked Dead Hot Workshop and Gin Blossoms because I was living in Arizona at the time (and playing in a band with the brother of the Gin Blossoms drummer - RIP Long Wongs) and I still listen to Dead Hot often, but not with the fervor I feel when I listen to SK.
People loved Pearl Jam then.
I mean okay, sometimes they were awesome, but I never ever listen to them now.
The only real corollary is Radiohead, this is about when The Bends was big (and I still LOVE that album, Radiohead had ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’ also a pretty high 2 album bar).
I guess one difference between Radiohead and Sleater Kinney is that Radiohead always acted like they were reluctant to be rock stars while Sleater Kinney were screaming "We are THE real rock stars" without ever saying anything.
Plus, Radiohead never seemed to have fun, Dig Me Out was a really fun album (even with many very serious themes).
The Beasties best album is still Paul's Boutique and I am not sure they ever came close to that level of genius again (RIP MCA).
Tribe is timeless and Tip was one of the best collectors of cool samples ever (and sometimes Tribe were playful and fun too).
The Pixies maybe could claim the title during this point, they certainly had two iconic albums in Doolittle and Surfer Rosa (Kim Deal should still be in the Pixies if they are going to call themselves The Pixies btw).
I still listen to The Pixies pretty often, I guess the difference in lyrics probably tips this one for me.
I mean Dig Me Out has songs about gender roles and sexual roles. They were saying important things at a critical time.
Nobody really knows what the hell Frank Black is singing about most of the time.
Anyone who wants to talk about Alice and Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, or Soundgarden are barking up the wrong tree with me.
All of these bands had moments (and I am a huge fan of Kim Thayal) but they just were not saying anything as interesting or rocking as hard as SK were.
Maybe I am Nuts
I don't know if I am really saying that SK were the best band of this extended period.
Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Radiohead, all pretty hard to top.
When this album came out, I was just starting out in my first career and actually had free time to go to summer festivals and watch bands all weekend….or go to see local bands (Dead Hot, The Pisteleros, The Piersons, Satellite, The Refreshments) or hip hop shows during the week (tipping cap to Pharcyde, Jehru, De La, etc).
I was playing music, going to shows, and really buying a ton of music (Tempe had multiple great local record stores - ahhh real record stores).
In other words, I was pretty plugged in to what was going on and I was buying music way beyond my means. It should say something that all these years later, this is one of the few albums that passed the test of time.
If you are still looking at this entry skeptically, I would suggest that is probably because you are more familiar with SK’s later work. SK’s on and off production since Dig Me Out has been good, sometimes very good, but rarely spectacular. I suggest (strongly) that you go put Dig Me Out on using some really good headphones and come back to me later.
I don’t really have a problem with the lack of comparative commercial success - see Ramones.
So, what do you think of Sleater Kinney? How did you like Dig Me Out? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!