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sleater-kinney return in top Riot Grrrl form

William Burrough's secretary James Grauerholz once noted that Patti Smith, known by many as the high priestess of punk, did a remarkable thing.

"She managed to be a rock'n'roll death without having to die," he said.

Smith announced herself to a worldwide audience in 1976 with Horses, an album that married punk rock and performance poetry consciousness and launched a thousand girl bands.

In 1980, Smith quit making music publicly and concentrated on married life and writing.

In the early 1990s, three women were playing in various local indie bands in Washington state before hooking up and forming Sleater-Kinney. Their debut album arrived in 1995, just as the Riot Grrrl scene was winding down.

Over the next 10 years they released seven albums before announcing their disbandment.

They stayed friends, working on various shared projects while pursuing individual careers. In 2000, they popped up on the splendid Go-Betweens' album The Friends of Rachael Worth.

Earlier this year, a box set release was accompanied by a new recording, Bury Our Friends. It was the first indication of this 10-track collection that's due for official release in January.

It's a blast. "We're wild and weary and we won't give in," they chorus with a defiance normally associated with the flush of energy and determination to change the world that fuels almost every newly formed band.

The album doesn't disappoint either. Playing to the band's stronger points, it's a turbo-charged rallying cry that is certain to impress older fans and whipper-snappers.

pummelled

Opening track Price Tag is the perfect urgent introduction to this new phase. Big riffs are pummelled by Janet Weiss' unforgiving drum assault. Through the maelstrom of angry guitar hooks, the vocals deliver the message, "In the market, the kids are starving. They reach for the good stuff…"

As this rant against consumerism illustrates, Sleater-Kinney haven't sold-out or gone soppy. They still deal with the real nitty-gritty. Power, gender politics and the entire diseased system.

With producer John Goodmanson at the controls, the group taps into their spiritual core. This comeback is driven by the need to create music and say something relevant, not just play a few gigs on the back-slapping nostalgia circuit. Surface Envy is a pounding shouter with abrasive whiplash guitars that recall the heyday of post punk.

"The core of this record is our relationship to each other, to the music and how all of us still felt strongly enough about those to sweat it out in the basement," says vocalist and guitarist Corin Tucker.

These 10 tracks confirm that author Greil Marcus wasn't exaggerating when he hailed the power trio as "America's best rock band".

Back from rock limbo, they prove there's plenty of life in this band yet. And I'm sure poet-provocateur Patti Smith would approve.

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