From the first twangy notes of “Now I Can Die,” it’s obvious that Nina Gordon wants to shed the bubblegum-noise image she earned during her tenure with Veruca Salt. Her solo debut, Tonight and the Rest of My Life, is a much quieter and more contemplative affair than anything the singer/guitarist/songwriter has done before. On this collection of slightly warped songs about love won and lost, Gordon proves she is more versatile than anyone might have expected, yet she doesn’t do much to establish a musical identity of her own.
Like fellow indie-band member turned solo act Juliana Hatfield, Gordon possesses a disarmingly childlike voice. On her 1992 solo debut, Hatfield cleverly turned her vocal limitations to her advantage by singing frankly about her insecurities, which seemed to be personified by her girlish warble. Gordon, too, attempts to pen emotional and personal lyrics but her efforts seem studied and more like genre exercises than true confessions. When she celebrates a lover on “Now I Can Die,” for example, she sings “Yeah, he really loves me / Sweethearts and turtledoves me.” Sure, it sounds vaguely poetic, but what the hell does it mean?
The mid-tempo ballad “Horses in the City” suffers from similar lyrical pretension, as Gordon sings, “I don’t know what it is / I just feel out of place / Like horses in the city.” While she earns points for inventing a new metaphor, it’s not a particularly effective one.
Fans of Gordon’s old band may catch a glimpse of her old self in the heavy rock of “Badway,” but otherwise, this is mostly a mid-tempo celebration of heartache, perhaps a result of Gordon’s very public breakup with Foofighters’ Dave Grohl. While it might seem odd to refer to anyone “celebrating” heartache, Gordon’s self-pity, which she repeatedly exploits in catchy three-minute guitar-rock songs, could hardly be called anything else.
In “New Year’s Eve,” she even makes overt reference to the fact that she is showing off her battle wounds: “I know it’s not in fashion / Wearing heartache on your sleeve / But I’m here and you’re there / So who cares what I wear on New Year’s Eve.”
Unfortunately, the song’s lyrics also inadvertently point to the biggest problem with Gordon’s weepiness. When she sings about being so heartbroken that she can’t French twist her hair and put on a pretty dress for the holiday, Gordon’s love of artifice over real emotion becomes obvious.
Gordon’s cover of the weepy classic “The End of the World” could have been the stroke of genius that tipped the scales in her favor if she had infused the song with even the slightest amount of irony, or at least the awareness that it is provides a perfect encapsulation of the theme of her album. Instead, all we get is more self-indulgence. Maybe if Gordon simultaneously displayed strength and vulnerability it would be possible to be more sympathetic to her longing. Instead she comes off like a pampered pop princess (albeit one who can write catchy tunes) who has confused whining with expression of emotion.