[14 May 2008]
The Dollyrots haven’t done too bad for a band begun under the premise that its members felt they had “no future”. After seeing the results of the 2000 election, long-time pals lead singer/bassist Kelly Ogden and guitarist Luis Cabezas decided that the world was headed for certain doom. Instead of gunning for a traditional day job, the two friends decided that they could have a lot more fun and reach more people by starting a rock band.
The astute duo, who apparently had enough foresight to predict the job market taking a major dump, formed the Dollyrots and headed to Los Angeles. Adding drummer Amy Wood to the mix, the trio’s self-released debut disc, Eat My Heart Out, grabbed enough attention to land one of their singles on an HP commercial and garnered the support of Joan Jett, who found the Dollyrots’ fun, femme-fronted power pop/punk to be a natural match for her label, Blackheart Records.
While a lot of current pop-punk bands owe more to the Fall Out Boy/Avril Lavigne school of sound, the Dollyrots subscribe to an older institution of bubbly three-chord punk in the vein of the Blackhearts and the Ramones. This facet of the band’s sound, particularly on their latest offering, Because I’m Awesome, is only enhanced by the appearance of frequent Joan Jett collaborator Kenny Laguna, who lends a hand with production alongside John Fields and Jacques Wait.
On their second offering, not much has changed since their debut, with the possible exception of Wood’s departure from the band and the addition of Chris Black on drums (although Woods’s drum tracks are still heard on Because I’m Awesome). The Dollyrots’ sound is the same as it ever was, with clever, catchy lyrics running around a track of straightforward, chugging pop-punk.
The Dollyrots continue to gain more steam, a throng of fans, and even more media attention with their new album’s tongue-in-cheek title track. “Because I’m Awesome” has found its way onto television shows like Ugly Betty and The Greek. While its subversive, sarcastic commentary may be lost on some ears, its cheerleader-esque burst of self-assured confidence nails the sycophantic feeding of the vast ego machine pervading the neo-Me Generation and its need for constant validation. Taking this attitude to task, the Dollyrots toss out condescending praise for miniscule achievements with lines like “You’re stronger, faster and can spell!”
The three-piece doesn’t linger too long in any one corner of subject matter, deftly maneuvering between broad scale social commentary and personal life experiences with a touch of humor. Taking a stab at blatant cultural criticism, the group issues a “A Desperate S.O.S.” in the vein of R.E.M.‘s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, and the scathing “17”, an acrimonious indictment of cradle robbing sexual predators. Although the message behind the music is rather stern, the Dollyrots deliver it with all the joie de vivre of a colorful piñata bursting with fun.
Many of the tracks on Because I’m Awesome accurately tap into the zeitgeist of the expanse between the teen years and quarterlife crisis. At one end of the rejection spectrum, the band enthusiastically tackles the phenomenon of creepy, unwanted attention and/or unhealthy relationships. “Cat Calling”, with its mock-leering “Hey baby, baby!” refrain, illustrates the plight of the attractive girl who fails to understand the mind of those who subscribe to the belief that yelling leering, insulting remarks will land them a date, while the instantly catchy “Turn You Down” is an open letter to manipulative masters of the mind-fuck.
Several songs succinctly sum up the experience of being banished to that cold, dark region known as the Friend Zone. Contrary to popular belief, the Friend Zone isn’t a dimension populated solely by males, as evidenced by Kelly Ogden’s cathartic musings. “My Best Friend’s Hot” captures the futility of hooking up with a friend who sees you as nothing more than that. “This Crush” is reminiscent of pop-punk girl groups gone past like the Runaways’ and the Donna’s three-chord takes on ‘50s and ‘60s girl groups, replete with sighing background harmonies. Ogden’s breathy vocals topped with a cynical dollop of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and conveyance of an all-consuming infatuation echo her mentor, Joan Jett’s cover of “Crimson and Clover”.
Speaking of covers, the Dollyrots’ possible piece de resistance on Because I’m Awesome just may be their punchy cover of Melanie’s “Brand New Key”—which interprets surprisingly well over thirty years later. While chirping about “a brand new pair of rollerskates”, Ogden’s voice glistens with cheery sweetness that belies an unexpected layer of unflinching grit, the auditory equivalent of a rough and tumble roller derby girl wreaking havoc during “couple’s skate-around” at the local skating rink. The folk factor of the original is neutralized, replaced with punky, poppy riffing and a steady backbeat that gives way to an aggressive mix of sugar and sexual innuendo and playing off of the suppositions of the original.
There is an utter lack of pretense about the Dollyrots on Because I’m Awesome. Nearly every piece on their sophomore effort flows without effort. In a genre clogged with contrivance, the Dollyrots manage to be catchy, radio-friendly, and still manage to separate themselves from the cookie-cutter pablum, balancing meaningful lyrics and mindless fun.