The Violent Femmes' punk-pop underground sound gave combative nobodies a voice in the '80s and '90s, thanks toGordon Gano's playful twist on teen angst and panting sexual frustration. Two decades later, Gano was still the indie-rock artisan when he made his solo debut with Hitting the Ground. Gano's selection of songs were exclusively written for some of his heroes, not to mention some of indie-rock's finest like They Might Be Giants, Frank Black, and Mary Lou Lord. Hitting the Ground is flat-out clever, cool, and cocky. Cymbals and two-tone percussion shimmy and shake on the album title track. PJ Harvey is an uncanny match for Gano, for her wicked vocal stomp and distorted guitar work on this surf-styled number is equally fiery to his own sarcastic rendition. His frenzied punk howl of "Make It Happen" sticks with the winning formula, too. Ex-4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry carries the lovelorn torch song "So It Goes" beautifully, while John Cale remains unruffled on the piano-driven lounge cut "Don't Pretend." Gano's songwriting on these particular songs hit to the core of what we're all afraid to notice: Life sucks sometimes. He's always been painfully honest, whether he's been funny or crass about it. The funky "Catch 'Em in the Act" is classicGano, with sexy, self-explanatory lyrics of male sexual adventure. Lou Reed's blues-tinged jams and sleek vocals point a finger at the paternal side of things, but humorously so. More than anything, it seems that Gordon Gano just wants to have fun. He's obviously had a blast with The Violent Femmes, but takes things in a personal direction on Hitting the Ground. What took him so long? That doesn't matter. Hitting the Ground is up to expectation and longtime Femmesfans shouldn't be surprised.