On their third album, A Little Messed Up, the Dollyrots continue their mission as purveyors of peppy pop punk. Possessed of a much fuller sound than their three easy pieces would belie, the band consists of lead singer/bassist Kelly Ogden; Ogden’s childhood pal and fellow founder, guitarist Luis Cabezas; and drummer Chris Black. Their mixture of sweet ‘n’ ballsy brought the Dollyrots to the attention of Blackheart Records’ co-founder and punk godmother, Joan Jett. Jett’s influence on the band is quite evident in their sound although the trio also owes a debt of gratitude to the Ramones and ‘50s girl groups for the unique blend that makes the Dollyrots sound so instantly recognizable and strangely addictive.
The Dollyrots’ last album, Because I’m Awesome, brought them media attention with the band’s tongue-in-cheek title track popping up on several television shows and commercials. Their new album doesn’t have as quite an in-your-face humorous quality as their last, yet still retains all of the Dollyrots’ signature sense of fun as they breeze through songs about love, life, and the marshmallow fluff or candy-apple razors sandwiched in between those two broad areas.
Several recurring themes pop up throughout A Little Messed Up, burrowing their way into multiple songs on the album. First and foremost among these themes is the giddiness of young love. “My Heart Explodes” is a bouncy love song with a ‘50s girl group feel set to crisp riffs with a dash of cheery synth pop reverberating in the background. Echoing those ‘50s harmonies, the sentimental ballad, “Pour Tous Jours” is a sweet declaration that hints at separation anxiety while “Let’s Be in Love” takes a slightly risqué turn through frenzied makeout territory.
The Dollyrots also throw food into the mix of their love songs (9 ½ Weeks-era Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger would be proud!) on “Just Like Chocolate” and “Om Nom Nom”, feeding off of the sustaining goodness of a new romance.
Going from one end of the spectrum to the other, the Dollyrots also tackle relationship drama on A Little Messed Up. Kelly Ogden coos about a boyfriend who is standoffish to friends even though he’s just ducky with her, leaving room for guitarist Cabezas to give way to a cranking guitar solo that’s awesomely uncomplicated, raw, and loud. Meanwhile, the disc’s lead single, “California Beach Boy”, could very well be the flipside to Katy Perry’s ode to “California Gurls”. A bouncy number about opposites attracting, “California Beach Boy” is the Dollyrots’ spin on what happens when Abercrombie dates Converse. The song’s chugging bass line and its clap-along chorus strike the right balance between being chirpy and hard-edged.
The Dollyrots aren’t all sweetness and light, however. “Bigmouth” runs rampant with rapid-fire riffs that lean in a heavier direction while still retaining a pop flavor. Meanwhile, “Coming After You” executes the same premise behind Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” regarding the high school microcosm class struggle that still exists in Anytown, USA. Ogden screams with righteous indignation: “He always gets beat up by the ‘roid rage preppies / Will it ever stop / Gave him a swirlie around / Took his Mohawk down / Almost didn’t notice / That he almost drowned.” Although not as grim of a cautionary tale as the grunge classic, the Dollyrots deliver an upbeat call to arms for those kids who refuse to conform, all while staying close to the band’s own bouncy sound and style.
Beyond the extremes of love and anger, above all, the Dollyrots deliver a can-do message of empowerment in a number of their songs. “Some Girls” is a droll ode to keeping your legs closed, even around the most persistent of guys. Despite the fact that two-thirds of the band have a “y” chromosome, the Dollyrots and Kelly Ogden come close to neo-riot grrl status, owning more of a humorous edge than their ‘90s counterparts, tackling social injustice with a smile instead of a scowl.
One of the most outstanding and meaningful tracks on A Little Messed Up is the pensive “Rollercoaster” which interweaves separate stories in a single song about finding oneself. The song brims with positive energy despite a sense of uncertainty about the future and where life will drop you. With this concept boiled down to a more personal, individual level than a generalized, universal level, the song harkens back to the Dollyrots founding ethos of finding joy in chaos. It was this founding philosophy that saw them shrugging off college and the potential of a future bearing white collar jobs after deeming the world doomed when Dubbya was elected. At its core, “Rollercoaster” is most symbolic of the Dollyrots’ message of taking heart to see a dream through, even if the road is rocky.
As a whole, A Little Messed Up paints the Dollyrots in the light of punk Pollyannas, delivering a message of staying true, all while plying fizzy pop-punk with an original and distinctive sound. Although they haven’t grown much musically, the group remains as delightfully uncomplicated and honest as ever.
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