The Donnas Turn 21 - The Donnas
A lot has been written about The Donnas and their new album, "The
Donnas Turn 21". The fact that they are rock prodigies of sorts and
had a signed, touring band at an age when most kids are in high school
has been well documented and commented on. It's also established that
The Donnas have become critical favs, with their balls to the walls
combination of 70's hard rock and punk thrust. But despite all that,
what makes "The Donnas Turn 21" one of the great American
albums is one, oft-ignored factor: Tone.
ask, your eyes skull-poppingly wide. "Are you referring to
The Donnas young, toned bodies? Are you simply fantasizing
about their heaving, well-oiled, teenage bosoms in some sort of
pedophiliac rock opera? Are you saying, Wil Forbis, that The Donnas
success can merely be summed up as a case of sex appeal?"
No, you nimrod,
that's not the tone I'm referring to. I'm talking about guitar
tone. "The Donnas Turn 21", simply put, has one of the best
guitar tones ever put to tape. Warm, but crunchy. Full, but with
a pinpoint edge. This is the sort of sound rock guitars were meant
to have. The question arises as to whether this wondrous guitar
is the work of The Donnas or the album's co-producer, Robert Shimp.
One cannot help but notice that previous Donnas albums (such as
1998's "American Teenage Rock'n'Roll Machine") did not have this
same sonic frequency. Earlier Donnas guitars had the fuzz associated
with mid-nineties garage rock, but not the sustain. The music bleed
out of of your stereo speakers and then, like a Wiley E Coyote who
has just realized that he's walked out into the open air past a
cliff, fell to the ground. But on "21", the tunes catapult out of
your car stereo and hang in the air for hours. Remember Nigel Tufnel
talking about the sustain lasting forever? Well, what was merely
a mockery of British rock dinosaurs in Spinal Tap has come to full
fruition on this album. IT DOES LAST FOREVER!!!
to say that good production is the only thing that drives this album.
Earlier Donnas compositions were more extension of the Ramones school
of songwriting, while "The Donnas Turn 21" has more of a debt to
AC/DC's pop masterpiece "Back in Black". The difference? Chords
played Ramones style have a steady throttle, AC/DC chords knock
you around. Remember the intro to "You Shook Me All Night Long'?
It knocked out percussive hits with the stilted rhythm of a bully
slamming your head against the gym locker. Several of the new Donnas
tunes apply similar bitch-slapping riffs, including the album opener,
"Are You Gonna Move It For Me", and the catchy "40 Boys in 40 Nights."
Other songs lay back into a steady rhythmic pound, as can be found
on "Do you Wanna Hit It" and "Police Blitz." Either way, the songs
here are unapologetically rockin' ; there's not a single song over
three and a half minutes, and the tempo never dips anywhere near
the realm of ballads. Like sex with your sister, it's fast and short.
But unlike sibling carnal relations, you'll quite proudly lay claim
to having participated in a Donnas listening party. (Indeed, nothing
has ever made me want to be a pre-teen, female suburbanite more
than "T21", as I think it would a blast to sneak my first cigarette
with The Donnas blasting out of my Fisher-Price stereo and thoughts
of black leather dancing throughout my head.)
The Donnas lay claim to some interesting territory on this album.
Had "Turn 21" come out in the early nineties, they probably
would have been lambasted by the punk scene for being too girly
- for not addressing the intellectual needs of feminism in jagged,
angry verse. But bands such as Bikini Kill and Heavens To Betsy
managed to ride that concept to its logical epoch and girls are
starting to celebrate being girls again. The Donnas complete a triad
of bad girl bands starting with The Shangri Las and following through
to The Runaways, with delightful "tuff girl" lyrics discussing boys,
drinking alcohol, boys, smoking pot, catty female adversaries, and
boys. While there's no doubt that the rhetoric and philosophy of
the Riot Grrl scene was important and empowering to young women,
one gets the feeling that what The Donnas sing about is more relevant
to a girl's day-to-day life. "Turn 21" manages to capture
the bite of the Kathleen Hanna crowd and combine it with the confidence
that comes with being an attractive female into something equal
parts revolution and celebration.
one disappointment on Turn 21, I'd have to say it's the inclusion
of Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight." Somehow this just seems
too… obvious a choice for a cover song. What would have been more
appro po would be a less renowned ditty from the metal catalogue,
perhaps Priest's "Screaming For Vengeance" or a Bon Scott tribute
in the form of "Beating Around The Bush." Even The Donnas seem aware
of the blandness of their choice and deliver "…Midnight" with a
lackluster performance. Unfortunately, when Rob Halford's snarl
and KK Downing and Glen Tipton's neo-metal guitars are removed,
the song reveals itself to be remarkably devoid of substance.
that is the only blemish on an otherwise compelling album. Everyone
from 45 year old metal heads holding out for a hard rock resurgence
and 13 year punkettes primping their Mohawks amidst their first
ovulations would do well to pick it up.