When the Donnas crashed the party in 2002 with their major label debut, Spend the Night, a handful of questions circled above the band: Were they just another preening girl group? Was this another style over substance ruse? Would they be the flavor of the moment, vanishing as quickly as they appeared? Although the album went on to successfully dispel all doubts about the Donnas' legitimacy as it was nothing less than wonderfully crafted pop infused fun, the band's future became clouded by yet more uncertainty. Could the promise of Spend the Night be duplicated? What of the sophomore slump? With the release of Gold Medal, the Donnas have leveled the competition, definitively proving that they can play, and stay, in the big leagues.
Evaluated simply in musical terms, Gold Medal is a strong second outing. The songs are still catchy and brisk, but the album's underlying sound is far removed from its bubbly predecessor. Everything about the new tracks has a heavier organic feel, from the polished confidence of Brett Anderson's vocals, to the rhythmic precision of Maya Ford's bass and Torry Castellano's strafing drum beats. More noticeable however, is the progression of Allison Robertson as a guitarist, as she anchors the album with muscular riffs throughout. Face it folks, these gals can flat out rock...
The album also showcases the band's sense of exploration and willingness to deviate from the curve. It would have been easy to stay with a formulaic blueprint in recording the follow-up to Spend the Night, but instead, Gold Medal incorporates a broad spectrum of influences, and allows the Donnas to refine their sonic image. From the opening crunchy twang of "I Don't Want to Know", the album traverses a variety of contrasting musical paths; the Cult-esque "Fall Behind Me", the jaunty jug band romp of "The Gold Medal", the somberly metallic "Don't Break Me Down" and "Revolver". Yet as the tracks ebb and flow, they all resonate around one common thread: Robertson's distinctive fret work. Harnessing a powerful '70s orientation, Robertson boasts a signature sound reminiscent of early Ace Frehley, one that will define her playing long into the future. It is this component of the band's attack that confirms its stature as a premiere act.
The most striking aspect of Gold Medal is the band's remarkable maturation process over the past two years. The Donnas have moved forward from the fun-loving "girls chasing boys" aesthetic, and are now using their creative latitude to build more sophisticated material. Oh, they're still fun to listen to, but they've grown into a veteran group in the space of two major label records, as Gold Medal proudly shows.
It is interesting to look back and chart the Donnas' ascension to the forefront of the latest musical renaissance. Earning their reputation on the indie circuit, then riding the crest of the pop wave started by the White Stripes, the Donnas displayed more talent and staying power than the majority of their contemporaries. Thus, while most of those acts have taken up residency in the "Where Are They Now File?" the Donnas have capitalized on the success of Spend the Night, with an impressive follow-up album, the direction of which bodes extremely well for the future, as it indicates the next studio recording will be even more evolved than the previous two.
How satisfying is Gold Medal? Suffice it to say that as the year winds down, the album has immediately staked out its claim on the "Best of 2004" list.
Good news indeed, as the Donnas look to be around making great music for some time...