Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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That Dog

  • Totally Crushed Out! [DGC, 1995] A-
  • Retreat from the Sun [DGC, 1997] A-
  • Old LP [UMe, 2019] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Totally Crushed Out! [DGC, 1995]
Biz babies who get too much shade for it, they come through with a sublime, honest little mock-concept album about teen love among the psychologically nondisabled. Their simple noise-pop tunes are actually melodic, their ugly-pretty contrasts actually generate tension, their sophisticated harmonies actually massage one's ears. And "He's Kissing Christian" is the best triangle song since "When You Were Mine." A-

Retreat from the Sun [DGC, 1997]
For a pop adept, Anna Waronker skimps on the surefire. On no more than half does the chorus come around and grab the ring; on no more than a couple does the verse leave you waiting for the chorus to make its move. But I think that's because she realizes that we're so inured to tunefulness that the surefire backfires. Waronker's deep hooks are a flatly winsome voice, an unsentimental guitar, and a flirty adventurism that promises loving sex without offering much hope she'll be there six months from now--even if she's indulging one of her domestic fantasies at your expense. A-

Old LP [UMe, 2019]
Two decades on, Anna Waronker's band sound as fresh and tuneful as they did in their twenties. With melodies on their way from catchy to exquisite, it's alt-rock primarily by historical association--far from obtruding, the many chamber-string parts complete a sonic concept you always sensed was there. Though the hyperconscious lyrics often seem constricted, resentful, unresolved, the music lifts them up, and then the the title finale lifts the whole album up. Having vaguely expected a fond joke about Waronker and bandmate Rachel Haden's deep vinyl-era roots--Anna's dad Lenny Waronker, son of Liberty Records founder Simon Waronker, produced Arlo Guthrie, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Rufus Wainwright, and his lifelong friend Randy Newman--I was instead bowled over by a devotional tribute to the power of recorded music to allay mortality. "I can hear you breathe," the pushing-50 Waronker sings to Rachel Haden's departed father, bass giant Charlie Haden. "I can see you right in front of me." For those few minutes, her mixed feelings go to heaven and the whole album seems to follow. A-