Legacy Without Debt
Kathleen Hanna’s unique voice fell silent around the time Le Tigre announced their hiatus, but ladies and gents, the riot grrrl has officially returned. An undiagnosed case of Lyme disease might have halted her for the better part of a decade, but the emphatic arrival of The Julie Ruin proves that the ailment sure as hell didn’t make her go soft.
Kathleen Hanna started making noise a couple decades ago. She was the driving force behind third wave feminist fanzine-turned-band Bikini Kill, and then went on to the more electronic Le Tigre. So this is her third major band, and it happens to be named after her ’98 solo record.
That being said, The Julie Ruin is equal parts new band and legacy act, which makes Run Fast both nostalgic and unfamiliar. There’s still a riot grrrl in Hanna, but she isn’t twenty anymore (though you can hardly tell). She’s paired up with her former Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox and Kenny Mellman of Kiki & Herb, who offers a refreshing Bowie-esque vocal counterpoint. Carmine Covelli and Sara Landeau are also new to the equation, which explains why The Julie Ruin sound so energetic.
Run Fast is held together by an equal emphasis on divergence and return to form. Hanna’s maintained her characteristic style without becoming indebted to it. The album isn’t entirely a tour de force, nor is it entirely Hanna’s. Tracks like “Just My Kind,” “Goodnight Goodbye”— and even “Run Fast”—are reprieves from a forward-driving album. There are even a few moments where Hanna retreats into the background. Mellman’s “South Coast Plaza” is a friendly reminder that this isn’t Julie Ruin—this is The Julie Ruin. Confusing, I know, but sometimes a ‘the’ can make all the difference.
A handful of anthems, such as “Girls Like Us,” bring listeners right back to Bikini Kill and the riot grrrl movement. Some might even be too consistent with Hanna’s past works but she’s not grasping for something lost in the past—there are moments of somber reflection that Hanna wouldn’t have uttered back in the ’90s. Hanna reflects on the distance between what she was and what she became on “Goodnight Goodbye,” wondering, “Will the teenage sneer you so cultivated / Sneer back at you and make you feel so hated?”
The Julie Ruin is a victorious return from an artist who never really left and it proves that she also isn’t going anywhere soon. Music critics and historians will solidify Kathleen Hanna as an icon at the forefront of the alternative punk riot grrrl movement of the ‘90s, but listeners will remember her for how she made us feel. We’ll remember that voice—oh God, that voice—it empowers and enrages us.