As one-third of Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker has spent the better part of two decades as one of the most powerful and important voices in rock music, delivering her blistering personal and political sermons with a one-of-a-kind vocal style. With the band on what has been described as an “indefinite hiatus” since late 2006, Tucker makes an overdue return with the Corin Tucker Band’s 1,000 Years. A fine enough record on its own merits, it can’t maneuver its way out of the long shadow cast by Sleater-Kinney, and the album ultimately suffers from many of the same problems encountered by artists who attempt to go solo long after they’ve established an identity as part of a band.
The title track opens the album on a promising note. The lo-fi production keeps a heavy reverb in Tucker’s signature blues licks, with the rhythm track building a propulsive forward momentum as Tucker observes in the aftermath of a breakup: “I’m alive after a thousand years.” If it lacks the brute force or punk ferocity of the best Sleater-Kinney material, “1,000 Years” nonetheless boasts a terrific melody and distinctive imagery that gives depth to its narrative.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the rest of the songs here. “Doubt” and “Dragon” are both undermined by the lack of refinement in their production: The reverb and distortion don’t give the songs texture so much as make them sound needlessly heavy. Since the album’s tempo downshifts about halfway through, that extra bulk is a significant liability, and 1,000 Years plays out as significantly longer than it actually is as a result of the ballast. That “It’s Always Summer” and “Pulling Pieces” want for strong hooks doesn’t help either.
Tucker turns in low-key performances throughout. With her rapid vibrato and unique yelp, she’s a phenomenal, immediately recognizable singer, and she’s at her best when she conveys an attitude that’s brash and confrontational. But the material on 1,000 Years doesn’t demand that of her. Ballads like the dreary “Miles Away” are a hard sell, and even when she cuts loose, as on the riotous second half of “Handed Love,” she’s drowned out by the fussy arrangement.
Much of this comes down to nitpicking, but Tucker has set the bar awfully high. Once an artist has demonstrated that they’re capable of real brilliance, she tends to be held to more rigorous standards, and that’s the position in which Tucker finds herself here. While 1,000 Years isn’t a bad album in comparison to other how-the-might-have-fallen spectacles (it’s hardly the catastrophe of, say, Liz Phair’s Somebody’s Miracle), it simply lacks the edge and bite of Tucker’s work with Sleater-Kinney.