America’s Best Rock Band: according to Greil Marcus, it’s Sleater-Kinney. Now reading this article you might be struck by how irrelevant the opening paragraph is – about S-K meeting the Backstreet Boys and them not knowing who S-K were. And you’d be right – it’s bogus point-scoring (besides, what should Kevin Backstreet have done, bent over for Corin Tucker’s so-cute antipop irony?).

But the opening paragraph also hints at why Sleater-Kinney have done so well – there’s something so neatly alternative about them, something which swerves Marcus into self-parody (or just laziness) every time he goes near them. They’re beautifully messless, nobody’s marketing tools for sure but still a furrowed liberal rock writer’s dream-lie of what a girl punk band should sound like. For Greil, hearing them must have been like finding a missing jigsaw piece under the table.

For me, there’s still more dread in the Backstreets’ “Shape Of My Heart” than in any self-satisfied scratches I’ve heard from Sleater-Kinney. That dread’s only there because I choose to put it there, sure, but this strikes me as a good way to take a swing at pop – throw something of yourself into the songs and see what stares back at you. It’s the kind of idea Marcus might like – “On the radio, a Sleater-Kinney song throws everything around it off balance” he says, and then he talks about how their sound makes you feel unafraid, and makes other music stupid, and how their voices sum up what’s “at stake”.

But this is what Greil Marcus has been saying about the bands and singers he likes for twenty years now. His critical method – looking for bands that can turn the world (a world) upside down – is good, but it’s never Marcus’ world that’s getting overturned, it’s always some mythical listening you or them. He’s listening for what he thinks bands might or should do, it seems to me, and his reactions are patrician and distant. Sleater-Kinney don’t overturn his critical life, not one bit – if anything they’re a labour-saving device, something to make his job easier. And listening to them you can tell why.