That Dog were a beloved band in the Nineties whose legacy has only grown since they released their last LP, 1997’s near-perfect Retreat From the Sun. They just released a deluxe edition of their 1995 debut album, and they recently played their first show in 19 years. In an example of That Dog’s influence on today’s generation of indie rock, Allison Crutchfield of the great band Swearin’ was on hand to sing backing vocals. Now, they’ve announced a new album, Old LP, their first since Retreat From the Sun. Along with original members — guitarist-vocalist Anna Waronker, bassist-vocalist Rachel Haden, and drummer Tony Maxwell — the new set features an interesting cast of guests, including Maya Rudolph, Randy Newman, former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon (who played a brief opening set before their comeback gig), Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s, among others.
The album’s lead single, “If You Just Didn’t Do It,” has all the hallmarks of what made them so fun and refreshing when they arrived in mid-Nineties, mixing crisp, agile alt-rock guitar charge, sleek melodies, and a uniquely refined sense of orchestration and craft that reflects their rich musical pedigree (Waronker is the daughter of Lenny Waronker, a music business legend who has produced albums by Randy Newman, Elliott Smith, and many others, and she’s the brother of Beck and R.E.M. session drummer Joey Waronker, while Haden is the daughter of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden).
“If You Just Didn’t Do It” continues the classic pop tradition of songs that had to be written because actual language (in Waronker’s case, an unsent letter) couldn’t get the writer’s point across clear enough (cf. Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”). In Waronker’s case, she’s singing to an old friend who can’t get their life together, someone she’s most likely been pulling along with advice and assistance for years. “Let’s go back to the coffee shop/Back to where you wish you’d run away,” she sings, tough but tender, sympathetic but exasperated. We’ve all had this friend, and we’ve all been this friend. There’s a lifetime of intimacy and drama here, delivered with a casually hard-hitting garage-pop catchiness. And if the song sounds like it could’ve been an album track on one of That Dog’s Nineties records, that’s more than fine, because this band’s all-too-brief run the first time around always suggested they’d cashed out while they still had a pile of chips on the table. It’s great to have them back.