Melissa Auf der Maur is in a tough position. She has rested at the top of the charts more than once, having been the bassist for both Courtney Love's Hole and Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins. But with the demise of these post-grunge bands, Auf der Maur is just a nobody setting out to prove herself on a solo CD.
If the album "Auf der Maur" proves anything, it's that working under some of rock's most notorious egomaniacs can serve as something of a distilling process for the near-anonymous musician. Auf der Maur must have had these 12 excellent songs in her head for the past 10 years and no way to express herself. She bursts out with confidence and flair on this strange, wonderful recording, drilling into areas untouched by her former bands and virtually absent from the rock scene. Whatever she is, the girl is not a follower.
The album is full of imagery-laden love songs, desperate and sensual, full of poetry and feeling. Her melodrama veers toward Goth rock and often evokes the post-glam decadence of Brits like Placebo. She also recalls PJ Harvey's upfront sexuality, particularly in "Taste You" and the gorgeous single "Followed the Waves." Half the time the songs seem to take place in some mythical stadium that Auf der Maur burns to the ground with the fervency of her delivery, as on the fast-chugging "Skin Receiver" and the stunning lead track, "Lightning Is My Girl."
Auf der Maur doesn't have a great voice, but she uses girlishness and menace in equal measure, and the result is heady. Her hurt seems to tunnel right into the listener's ear.
She falls into the tried-and-true grunge pattern on only a couple of tunes. "Beast of Honor" goes soft, loud, soft again, with distorted guitars and creepy key changes, and she sings in the conversational talk-sing popularized by punk rockers with no chops. "My Foggy Notion" follows the same pattern, and its heavy reverb, dramatic drum buildups to the chorus and dissonant moments expose the close relationship between pompous '70s progressive rock and supposedly careless '90s grunge.
What sets Auf der Maur apart from her grunge forebears, though, is the sense of fun she transmits, especially on a pleasing song like "I'll Be Anything You Want," in which she lapses into a cute falsetto, quotes Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and even promises "a little dance, romance, a little dinner for two" over a perky marching beat. And when she turns the lyrics around on her love object, claiming that "You'll be anything I want," it seems like a fair trade for such an accommodating girlfriend.
It all gets a little too "Dungeons and Dragons" here and there -- what the heck is going on in the tuneless cabaret ballad "Overpower Thee"? And "I Need I Want I Will" is sheer heavy-metal self-indulgence. But good for her. Let Melissa express everything she had to keep inside while listening to Courtney and Billy's tantrums. She'll only come back stronger.