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Album reviews: Sleater-Kinney, The Hold Steady, Rick Ross

The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

Sleater-Kinney

"The Center Won't Hold"

(Mom + Pop 1/2)

There's been no shortage of drama surrounding "The Center Won't Hold," the ninth album by the formidable punk trio Sleater-Kinney.

There was excitement this spring when word got out that the band of guitarist-singers Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss were being produced by St. Vincent, the smart and stylish alt-guitar hero who was born Annie Clark. And then there was dismay last month when Weiss, an important component of the band's powerful sound, announced she was leaving the group because they were "heading in a new direction." (That gave way to worry when Weiss announced this week that she had been injured in a "scary" car accident that left her with a broken leg and collarbone and caused her to cancel a tour this fall with Quasi, her other band.)

And now, the music on "The Center Won't Hold" will surely cause longtime fans further consternation. The album is by no means an abject failure, but it's a clear effort to pursue a new musical direction -- less punk, more pop -- that results in the heretofore supremely confident band coming across as uncertain about its musical identity. The album has its moments -- the seething "Restless," about "learning to love the ugliest things," and the climactic ending of the title cut opener, when grimy electronic drums give way to a satisfying noisy guitar maelstrom. But most of the intricate interplay between Tucker and Brownstein that has been a Sleater-Kinney trademark going back to 1996's "Call The Doctor" is missing, as the band has clearly opted for a sleeker, more keyboard-centered approach that apparently left Weiss disillusioned and may well have the same effect on fans. --Dan DeLuca

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The Hold Steady

"Thrashing Thru the Passion"

(Frenchkiss )

From 2004 to 2008, The Hold Steady nearly perfected a literary arena rock of which only Bruce Springsteen himself has ever matched the combined lyrical density and musical grandeur. Then keyboardist Franz Nicolay quit and the motto became, "We're good guys but we can't be good every night." Now, after a decade, Nicolai's back and so is the passion. "Blackout Sam" alone has both "I want to make you feel protected and high" and "Promise me you won't forget / The nights that haven't happened yet." Another key line: "It shouldn't have to be perfect."

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