wears the trousers magazine


the donnas: greatest hits vol. 16 (2009)
July 27, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , ,

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The Donnas
Greatest Hits Vol. 16 ••½
Purple Feather

Yes, you read the title right. The Donnas are back with Greatest Hits Vol. 16 – but it’s not really a greatest hits set, nor is it the 16th volume in any series. Instead, the ‘sixteen’ of the title refers both to the number of songs included and to the 16th anniversary of the band’s formation in the Californian town of Palo Alto as lively eighth-graders. Now, with all four members turning 30 in 2009, Greatest Hits Vol. 16 keeps one eye on the future while carefully giving a revisionist approach to some past material. Featuring a mix of new songs, unreleased rarities and re-recorded versions, the album benefits from the Donnas formula of tight pop-punk that rarely stretches beyond the three-minute mark, and as such retains its vigour and sense of energy. In particular, the first half of the album is almost unfailingly melodic and instantly memorable, with lead singer Brett Anderson’s strong vocals complemented by the often impressive guitar lines of Allison Robertson and the frenetic rhythm section of Maya Ford on bass and Torry Castellano on drums.

The record opens with a one-two punch of striking new material. Despite a lack of much finesse, ‘Get Off’ is pleasingly raw and rambunctious while ‘Perfect Stranger’ turns out to be the album highlight, with Robertson’s bewitching guitar work offering a bed for some genuinely attractive vocal harmonies and an insistent melody. This song is perhaps the best example of just what The Donnas can achieve with a fine melody – even with a relatively basic conventional rock band arrangement. Later songs are perhaps less conventional but, unfortunately, less beguiling at the same time. Two unreleased B-sides from 2007’s independently-released Bitchin’ follow – the catchy and competent ‘We Own The Night’ and the energetic ‘She’s Out Of Control’ – but, particularly in the case of the latter, they are marred by needless guitar solos and unremarkable lyrics. But, one might argue, the appeal of The Donnas is more to do with their boundless energy and sense of fun rather than any claims to sophisticated poetry.

Raw live versions of genuine hits ‘Take It Off’ and ‘Fall Behind Me’ offer an interesting glimpse into The Donnas’ on-stage ethic, and it’s intriguing to hear the band without the benefit of studio production (which, in any case, is hardly glossy anyway.) As songs though, they are quite non-descript, and a new version of ‘Get You Alone’ (from 1999’s Get Skintight) does not, despite its memorable bassline, change this view. A remix of 2001’s ‘Play My Game’ starts to get the record back on track with its likable melody and impressive drum patterns, while an updated version of 1998’s ‘You Make Me Hot’ provides a welcome shift of the gears into a more mid-tempo setting.

It’s at this point that Greatest Hits Vol. 16 veers down a completely new direction, almost as if the second half of the album was a different release entirely. As the record draws to a close, The Donnas at 30 seem to be channelling their teenage selves in a series of alternate versions and reworkings. There’s a lot of fun and humour in the shouty ‘Get Rid Of That Girl’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Go To School’ from their eponymous 1997 debut, but also a lot of youthful naivety. While it’s almost charming to hear these songs played in 2009 with a dozen years worth of experience, it’s also in danger of being an ironic joke too far. Who really wants to hear a 30 year old sing “No more teachers, no PE / no more parents killing me”? The album’s later songs, which also include two previously unreleased but deeply unremarkable sketches, recall some of the early work of Blondie – but without any of the sophistication.

Greatest Hits Vol. 16, then, is in no way a genuine best-of – but if it was, it probably wouldn’t work as one. There’s not enough diversity, variety or consistent musical refinement to keep the listener’s interest throughout, and it doesn’t exactly present The Donnas as a particularly versatile band. But, as an album on its own, you cannot fault its sense of fun and vigour. The songs are concise and punchy, often very catchy, and matched by strong rock arrangements. The promise of the first few songs peters out in the middle before it veers off into bubblegum nostalgia for the final few songs, but one thing is particularly encouraging – the new songs, especially ‘Perfect Stranger’, offer an enticing glimpse at what may be to come.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 13/07/09; www.myspace.com/thedonnas

FREE MP3: The Donnas, ‘Get Off’ [via Spinner]

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[…] Richardson Andrews 28/7] 33 Terra Naomi – Go Quietly [Alan Pedder 16/9] 34 The Donnas – Greatest Hits Vol. 16 [Matt Barton, 27/7] 35 Ellen Mary McGee – The Crescent Sun [Ben Urdang, 7/7] 36 Butterfly Boucher […]

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