4. Call The Doctor (1996)
For a document so quickly executed, the debut was a hell of a thing. Call The Doctor adds to the palette while exhibiting a keener sense of sequencing. (Sleater-Kinney has the two shortest songs in the band's catalog -- either of which could have been a ripping opener -- and closes with three straight tracks with the word "song" in the title.) Brownstein ups her vocal contributions, offering soaring countermelodies on "Stay Where You Are," high-flown support on "Hubcap," rejoinders on the title track. Macfarlane keeps the kit on lock, an improvement on her work on the debut -- understandable, given the compressed nature of Sleater-Kinney's recording. "Hubcap" features her deconstructed beat -- dig those off-beat cymbal hits -- and she also chips in backing vocals on a handful of tracks. According to Wikipedia, she played guitar on the wide-eyed closer "Heart Attack," which, just like debut's "The Last Song," is sung by Brownstein. Her screaming stands in stark contrast to the gentle arpeggiation, just another example of the band's capability to subvert expectations.
At this point in their career -- and, really, very rarely afterward -- Sleater-Kinney did not deal in quietude. As writers and singers, Tucker and Brownstein masterfully forsook vulnerability; the sentiments were raw, even incendiary, but like their scene forebears, they're presented as inquiries, not apologies. For every statement of pride like "Call The Doctor" ("This is love and you can't make it/ In a formula or shake me") there's a deeply ambivalent cut like "I'm Not Waiting," in which Tucker declares "I'm not waiting/ Till I grow up/ To be a woman," then switches to "Till I throw up." A blazing emotional tone colors the music, whether on the live-wire mod-punk of "Little Mouth," or "Taking Me Home," a sea shanty that keeps listing into the minor key. Even "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" -- the most well-known track on Call The Doctor -- though it explodes with gleeful see-saw yowls on the refrain, it mostly crawls forward on the low end, accruing that death-drive energy.
"Joey" is where the band's ambitions got explicit. The title can certainly scan as twee, but Tucker claims a different kind of desire, crowning herself "the queen of rock and roll." At the time, it was probably more an acknowledgement of the peculiar nature of scene popularity; after all, who but a tuned-in music geek would consider Joey (to say nothing of Thurston Moore, who also gets a namecheck) the king of rock and roll? At the same time, Sleater-Kinney were staking their claim to the kind of plaudits accorded all too infrequently to bands masterminded by women. Soon enough, this song would look like a prophecy; at the time, it must have seemed like an astounding wish.