3 out of 5
Produced by: That Dog, Tom Grimley, Paul du Gré, Rob Cavallo
I love that dog. Wholeheartedly. I love Anna Waronker’s dry delivery of sincere – and then sarcastic, and smart – lovelorn lyrics; I love the way the group throttles between grunge and pop; I love the interplay of the Haden’s strings and vocals with Tony Maxwell’s bright and crisp drumming. And I love Totally Crushed Out!, their second release, which features some of their greatest singles, and some of their most genius and intense smash-ups of genre. …But I don’t think it’s necessarily a great album, as defined by something you listen to as an end-to-end experience.
All of the pieces are here. The snotty teens of that dog.’s debut look a little sobered up and matured in their album pics – young adults now – and the kitschy cover art is no longer art-damaged but suggestive of something a bit more self-aware; indeed, there’s a bit less distance in Anna’s lyrics here, focusing exclusively on love and crushes in a way that juggles the innocence of youth with the rebelliousness of same, and dawning awareness that things are never as simple as you’re told they could / should be. Punky crunch of their prior disc meets the sunshine sheen of their forthcoming one.
But the meeting is… a difficult one. The first four tracks are pristine; amazingly focused and sharp, produced with a razor-sharp edge by classic punk / rock producer Paul du Gré and superstar Rob Cavallo. ‘Anymore’ – an acoustic track – is where things get shaky. It’s a pretty track, and could have fit at the end of the album, perhaps, or after the punky Lip Gloss, but its presence here feels abrupt. The slower, post-rock of To Keep Me is then similarly out of place feeling – experimentally discordant but more contemplative feeling than what we’ve heard. The previously mentioned Lip Gloss zips things back up tight: it’s a rush of riffs that strips things down to a rocking core, with more whipsmart “cute” but killer lyrics from Anna.
More ups and down of this nature follow, despite those “downs,” when taken on their own, being amazing. This is pretty well summarized by the 7+ minute closer Michael Jordan, which brings in electronics and ambience and a whole bunch of other stuff in a smorgasbord of stuff that’s well stitched together, but suggestive of a group trying to figure out what identity to wear (…which admittedly could be meta-commentary on youth…). It’s sort of a mind-blowing closer because we haven’t heard its like from that dog. before (or since), but it’s also not as “epic” sounding as I think it was intended to be.
And for these reasons, I tend not to listen to Totally Crushed Out! as often as I probably should, but when I do, I love hearing the weird blend of before-and-after, and the blossoms of perfection it produced, over a tangled bush of ideas and emotions.