[18 February 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
They’re cool, they’re photogenic, they get a ton of video air time, and their single “Take It Off” is immensely catchy. They are the Donnas, and it certainly has been an interesting past few months for them. In that brief time span, they have emerged from indie label land, hit the charts with their Atlantic debut album Spend the Night, and parlayed their new found stardom into MTV media darling status. Yet, in spite of this excessive exposure, the question remains, are the Donnas the flavor of the moment or is their album as good as its billing?
In order to answer this satisfactorily, two persistent concerns about the Donnas need to be dispelled once and for all. First, they are not just another mass marketed girl group. Truth be told, they have little in common image wise with any of their rock goddess predecessors. They lack the Runaways’ street-wise sluttishness, the preened cuteness of the Go-Go’s, or the shallow plasticity of the Bangles. They aren’t as edgy as Heart’s Wilson sisters, and are even further removed from the sneering leather toughness and metal vixen appeal of solo Joan Jett and Lita Ford. They’re more akin to a Ramones-Lite incarnation, only far more attractive. In all actuality, they have succeeded in combining the right amounts of attitude and flair to carve out their own image niche. The Donnas are most like, well, the Donnas. Therefore, they should not be labeled exclusively as a girl band but rather as just a band.
Second, they really can play. Questioning their abilities due to their gender is profoundly unfair, as if being female implies an inherent lack of musicianship. Though they are only in their early 20s, The Donnas have been together as a group for 10 years, and have compiled an impressive resume of indie releases and tours. They’ve honed their musical skills over that time, and have developed a tightness and maturity that eludes many of their contemporaries. The confidence they have in themselves is apparent in the studio and on stage, as they lay down a groove in their own distinctive ways: Donna A. swivel hipping it up front; Donna F. pogoing through her bass runs; Donna R. tearing up her fret board; and Donna C. flailing about behind her kit, a dervish of hair and drum sticks. They play hard, and they play well, making for some rather enjoyable live performances.
So then, what of their album? Clocking in at a brisk 40 minutes, Spend the Night is comprised of 13 tracks, each revolving around one of two recurring themes. The songs “It’s on the Rocks”, “Who Invited You”, “Dirty Denim”, and “Not the One” focus on the time honored tradition of boy bashing, while “Take It Off”, “All Messed Up”, “You Wanna Get Me High”, “I Don’t Care (So There)”, “Pass It Around”, “Too Bad About Your Girl”, “Please Don’t Tease”, “Take Me to the Backseat”, and “5 O’Clock in the Morning” center around partying and chasing guys. Not exactly the hallmarks of lyrical sophistication, these songs nonetheless come across as refreshing and fun, without any sense of mean spiritedness or gratuitous over hyped sexuality. Everything the Donnas say is done with tongue placed firmly in cheek and a knowing wink. While the album embodies the spirit of being a perpetual teenager, it lacks the amateurish silliness of similar recordings that have been offered up ad nauseam by countless other bands du jour. Whatever perceived shortcomings the songs may have lyrically, they more than make up for by the fast paced energy they collectively exude. By keeping the song writing model simple and straightforward, the Donnas afford themselves the opportunity to add the right amount of hooks and riffs to solidify their musical credibility. The album rocks from start to finish, with no break in the action, resulting in a very listener friendly and satisfying major label debut.
Can a genuinely good album propel the Donnas to bigger and better things? In some respects, the album’s success has resulted from the group’s ability to ride the crest of a popularity wave that numerous lesser bands have ridden at the same time. In an odd way, the Donnas’ future appeal may hinge on avoiding the “guilt by association” dilemma as they share air space with the creatively challenged Sum 41s and New Found Glorys of the moment. Judging them solely on the merits of Spend the Night, the Donnas appear to have a bit more than the proverbial 15 minutes to enjoy, and a significant amount of quality music to offer their fans in the future. Let’s hope they never grow up.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/donnas-spend/