April 19, 2004

Anna Domino "Anna Domino"

Anna Domino should have been big. When she first made waves with her debut album in 1986, her career should have launched into outer space. After all, that was the year when 'college rock' started to make waves in the mainstream, and folkier acts like Suzanne Vega started to gain popularity. Domino had it all; her singing was strong, her music had enough of an edge to be interesting, yet it was all wrapped up with a pop sensibility that could have appealed to a wider audience. Like so many stories in the music world, this success story was not to be.

Anna Domino, released in 1986, was her debut album, though she had released three well-received singles and a mini-album, East & West. Thus, expectations for her debut album were high. To produce her album, she teamed up with Billy Rankine of The Associates, whose own band was a blend of darker elements mixed with a distinctive pop sensibility. It's no accident, then, that Anna Domino would be a blending of these elements. The ten songs found on Anna Domino are certainly interesting, and her style goes from the opening cabaret-style "Rythm" and the Nico-esque "Drunk" to the pure pop of "Summer" and reggae-tinged pop of "Chosen Ones." Perhaps the most interesting--and most surprising--song here is "Not Right Now," because its melody is almost identical to Madonna's "Open Your Heart."

That highlights Anna Domino's fatal flaw: it tries too hard. While she had seen success with the "Take That" and "Rythm" singles, much of the material on Anna Domino seems caught up in trying to repeat these initial successes. That the music occasionally sounds dated is not an indictment of Domino's style inasmuch as it is the end result of trying too hard to be 'contemporary.' It's evident that Domino suffered from overproduction; the five bonus tracks--four of which were taken from singles from that era and one collaboration with industrial music guru Luc Van Acker--have a different texture than Anna Domino. These songs have more of a depth than the pop-oriented material--and as all but one of these songs weren't produced by the album's mixing team, it's clear that the production was a bit suffocating.

Still, Anna Domino isn't terrible, and these flaws could (and probably should) be seen as symptoms of the debut album syndrome--in trying too hard to define her identity, her producers have unintentionally stiffled her personality. But listening to Anna Domino twenty years on, it's a surprise that this album--in spite of its flaws--didn't see greater success. It is a shame that Domino's been regulated to 'cult' status, and it's to LTM's credit that they've rescued Domino from the dustbin of obscurity. Her failure to reach the top of the world was not her fault, but was a combination of a world not quite ready for her music and the missteps of her production team. It didn't stop her from producing some excellent music, though--and with LTM behind the Domino reissue series, it's only fitting to know that she's finally getting her due.

--Joseph Kyle

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