Giant Drag – Waking Up Is Hard to Do

written by: March 17, 2013
Release Date: March 5th, 2013


“Forever your girl,” went Annie Hardy’s quirky sign-off on Giant Drag’s latest blog update. It felt especially poignant as she announced the new album, Waking Up is Hard to Do, two days before release, along with the bomb that it would likely be her last under the Giant Drag name. It was like seeing your childhood friend for the first time in ages only to learn they’re moving to Singapore for work. A drag? Sure, but it’s clear she couldn’t be happier.

Waking Up comes nearly eight (!!) years after Giant Drag’s wonderfully subversive debut, Hearts and Unicorns. Aside from a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and a decent stopgap EP (2010’s Swan Song), it was too quiet for too long, especially for an artist with the potential to provoke like Hardy. The new record’s title could be referring to the difficulty of arousing from a creative slumber, but it’s not like Hardy was keeping her thumbs warm: Giant Drag’s other half, drummer/keyboardist Micah Calabrese, quit twice and Hardy ran into financial difficulties getting these songs officially recorded (the five demos on Waking Up’s deluxe edition stretch back to 2007).

When she vocalized last August how she was “thinking of taking this old horse to the glue factory,” it was easy to empathize. But her one-hot-album-every-ten-year-average ends with Waking Up, which hits harder having been dubbed a “bittersweet goodbye.”

Waking Up shows off the new tricks in Hardy’s oeuvre, but longtime fans shouldn’t tune out. “Firestorm” is classic ’Drag: insistent, fizzy guitars under Hardy’s arching daddy’s-little-monster vocals. “Dennis the Pennis” has a loping, nonchalant beat that sounds like it evolved from a particularly flannel-heavy Nada Surf jam, Hardy warbling “another one down the drain” like a kids’ playground game. And then there’s “Garbage Heart,” a straight up nasty non-apology over the album’s ugliest guitars and topped with the cherry of Hardy’s ending “hee-hee!,” a throwback to the playful psycho-girl persona she crafted on the debut. Off-kilter titles like “Dennis the Pennis,” “Messif My Face” and “Meowch” show that character is still there, the problem child her parents pray doesn’t come downstairs during the dinner party to do a reading from her journal and flirt with daddy’s business partner.

Still, the new sounds are even more exciting: “Won’t Come Around” starts with a thudding disco-strut groove and throws in ghostly backing vocals from three Annies; it’s like the high school of your nightmares, with a Ronettes-loving biker gang cornering you under the bleachers. The spacey lounge-cheese of “Messif My Face” lets Waking Up feel cohesive but not monochrome, and the stomping “Sobriety is a Sobering Experience” finds Hardy getting her Marc Bolan on (it’s a dead ringer for T. Rex circa Electric Warrior, down to the skid row women’s choir backing vocals).

The heartbreaking “Heart Carl” made its way onto Swan Song as a “Wish You Were Here”-style goodbye, but this new version spins it into an organ-fueled slow dance, complete with lend-me-your-ears preacher intro (“Brothers and sisters!”), aching slide guitar and a last request from Hardy. “Don’t let the goodbyes get too good tonight / don’t let the ‘goodbyes’ turn into ‘good night’.” It’s her farewell letter to Giant Drag, an idea that overstayed its welcome but still has the allure of an old flame (she’s compared it to an “abscessed tooth”).

Despite those bittersweet moments, Waking Up is a brighter album than its predecessors as it greets a new phase of Hardy’s career. Opener “90210” barely takes a minute for the endorphin shot of a chorus to kick in, and on the other side of the tracklist, “Heart Carl”’s auf wiedersehen is followed with the “hello, world!” of the uncharacteristically soulful “Seen the Light.”

It’s hard to say how much Calabrese brought to the table – like Girls’ Chet White, he could have added uncredited flourishes and countermelodies that elevated the songs from listenable to essential. There’s also something keeping even Waking Up’s best songs from transcending that emotional threshold, but in all fairness, Hearts and Unicorns had quite a head start.  Hardy is far from done with music (at her new label’s website, she’s recruited friends to blog about Cheap Trick’s entire discography). Waking Up was worth the wait, and although its arrival comes slightly soured by the news, it’s hard to hate when she’s this happy about the future. It’s been a long time coming.

Giant Drag – Waking Up Is Hard to Do tracklist:

  1. “90210”
  2. “We Like the Weather”
  3. “Won’t Come Around”
  4. “Do It”
  5. “Firestorm”
  6. “Garbage Heart”
  7. “Meowch”
  8. “Messif My Face”
  9. “Dennis the Pennis”
  10. “Sobriety Is a Sobering Experience”
  11. “Heart Carl”
  12. “Seen the Light”