In the '90s, groups that dog. were the alternative pop to that decades' "alternative" rock. They were the type of band that the more mainstream players of the day (Beck, Weezer) would take with them on the road to try to maintain an air of indie credibility. Lamentably, for them and us, that dog. got lost amongst all the other female-fronted bands of the mid-'90s. As catchy as their songs were or as fun as they were to see live, they were also a band that was ignored by the mainstream at large. And from an indie snob perspective, it was just as it should be.
There has always been a sort of ownership mentality amongst fans (an unfortunate by-product in following the indie music scene) who would rather the world at large left them and their music alone. And this is fine, as long as the artist still gets to eat. Really, who wouldn't rather see their favourite group play the smallest shit hole club than the local enormo-dome? Who wants to see the White Stripes on the MTV Movie Awards? The flip side to this mentality is the desire to turn people on to new music, which may be a form of human nature's longing for acceptance. We want people to listen to stuff they should be hearing. I'm no different. Anna by Anna Waronker is just such stuff.
The former frontwoman for the afore-mentioned that dog., Anna Waronker has released her first official solo record (the final that dog. album Retreat from the Sun was meant to be the first, but became a band project once the record company got involved). Anna isn't so a much a departure in song and style from her previous band as much as it is a declaration of independence. Waronker wrote, performed and produced every song, and even released it on her own record label, Five Foot Two Records (co-run by her sister-in-law, the Go-Go's Charlotte Caffey, and named after their shared height). The cover art couldn't be more perfect: a simple black and white photo of the singer-songwriter, naked with her arms embracing herself in a strategic way. The record is just as straightforward, more edgy power-pop than the cute, quirky pop of that dog. It's also a whole lot of fun to listen to.
Anna Waronker had contributed a song to the Josie and the Pussycats movie and soundtrack, the big poppy "I Wish You Well". It is found here with her own vocals and harmonies, along with her brother Joey's always-appropriate drumming (which has backed both Beck and REM over the years). A power-pop gem, the song is a clear-headed view of the benefits of an ended relationship ("What made me think / That I could survive all the wear and tear / It's not my thing / To stand here and pose for some William Tell"). Relationships are the main focus of most of the songs on Anna, in all forms and emotions contained within. In the pretty, string-laden "Eat Me Alive", the singer longs for " Some space to breathe / Space to think / Some space for me". This is one of about four sadder, almost mournful songs here, and Waronker's gorgeous and smooth alto is effortless in its ability to convince us she knows of what she sings.
The singer is equally adept and emotive in the all-out rock songs on the record. "How Do You Sleep" contains the coolest guitar riff of the record, a fuck you song ("And I'm not gonna let you push me / Cause I'm gonna push you"). "Perfect Ten" is the heaviest thing here, with its pounding piano and drums, and brings to mind both Veruca Salt and "Breathe" from Tanya Donelly's first solo record (Donelly is again brought to mind in the mid tempo "John & Maria"). "Nothing Personal" is the type of song Courtney Love wishes she could do, with its gigantic Nirvana-ish guitar riff juxtaposed with a quieter, simpler riff. And the growl in Anna's voice by the end is perfect.
The snarl in Waronker's voice in what may be the album's sonic and lyrical centerpiece is another signal that this is the work of an independent woman showing her stuff. "All for You" is a fuzzed-out, swaggering piece of rock bliss. In fact, the entire feel of the album may be summed in a small moment in this song, at the end of the first chorus. In small pause, there is just the faintest sound of Anna uttering a small gasp, a small "uh" that has more attitude in it than anything Pink or April Lavigne could hope to contrive. Trying to balance independence and being someone's partner at the same time is what's at stake, and she reveals that "If I could be in / Two places at once / I'd be out at sea / Really packing a punch / And then I'd be home making us lunch". She understands the duality of the situation, and strives not to be taken for granted within it ("I want to give everything / But you know I'm not just anyone / I've got a lot of things to do / I do it all for you"). Even the line "I want to give everything" varies by the last chorus to "I want to be everything". The lyrics could just as easily be directed at herself as they are at someone else.
Anna by Anna Waronker is a self-assured and fitting solo debut from a veteran of the music industry. Calling all the shots of this record as well as her career has served her well. This is at once a fun summer album and a thoughtful winter album. Full of three-minute rock and pop songs, Anna is one of this year's best records. Waronker and Caffey plan to release records by Redd Kross (an obvious choice, as the woman are married to Kross brothers Steven and Jeff McDonald, respectively), as well as the Muffs, and others. Hopefully, all this record-mogul business won't keep the singer too far away from the business of making her own music. This is the type of album that leaves you waiting for the next one.