5. All Hands On The Bad One (2000)
In 1999, Sleater-Kinney were tapped for Belle & Sebastian's inaugural Bowlie Weekender festival. They were stopped cold in the artists' reception tent; on a chalkboard listing the lodging assignments, someone had scrawled "ladymen -- yes" next to the number of their chalet. They duly converted the tone-deaf joke into "Ballad Of A Ladyman," a stunning combination of glam Bowie and adult alternative wherein Tucker croons about the pressure to conform, something the band still faced, even as they continued to annex exciting new territory. According to the band, even at this late date people were still asking when they were going to add a bassist. They didn't want one, they didn't need one, but unlike the White Stripes (pretty early into their career at this point), some still saw its absence as a bug, not a feature.
Ask Prince: conjuring a bass is a much cooler trick. On a pair of All Hands' lean rock and rollers, you'd swear someone is holding down the low-end. I refer, of course, to "All Hands On the Bad One" and "You're No Rock N' Roll Fun," a Beatles-indebted rave-up that harkens back to the coy playfulness of prime NW indie pop with a peculiar poignancy. (Perhaps it's that beautiful harmony on the final chorus.) Five albums in, it's clear that S-K still had every intention of having fun and surprising on their hard-won terms. Tucker drops a few obvious French signifiers on both "Male Model" and "Milkshake N' Honey": the former cheerfully offers to re-gender the rock hierarchy; the latter finds Tucker dropping into her lower register for a louche tale of a Parisian fling. In a scene that was still a couple years away from thinking it had invented dancing, Sleater-Kinney kept cranking out booty-shaking, sub-three-minute feminist anthems.