he best year for my kinda punk since 1984 was 2002 (I think maybe yeah whatever). Good Charlotte and All-American Rejects turned pop-punk into punk-pop, Kelly Osbourne, the Distillers and the Donnas dropped defiant, definitive statements, Desaparecidos and Fugazi (Argument’s late 2001, I know) showed that Underground Rock That Matters could still be really enjoyable and little snots were making Ws with their hands in arenas across the country. And these were just the bands that made classics! There was this one MTV ad where they showed a whole bunch of clips over Blink-182’s “Stay Together For The Kids” that would bring a tear to my eye. Rock was back!
Though the Distillers’ 2003 follow-up was a mopey disappointment, I had big hopes for 2004, when the rest of my Favorite American Rock Heroes were supposed to drop dynamic follow-ups that expanded their market share and would make other people over 21 acknowledge their glory. Turns out most of the bands would get distracted by drugs, grad school, fame, family, shitty indulgi-folk projects and the little clock that read 14:59. Good Charlotte went for a Meat Is Murder rather than a Hysteria. The Donnas are having a similar crisis of confidence.
The excitement of a mainstream howdydoo helped give Spend The Night a charge that was lacking on their last two Lookout releases, with the band slipping off their svengali-forced retro-Ramones shtick while enthusiastically re-announcing their pride and pleasures. The album wasn’t a major smash but it got plenty of MTV attention and you know, if just one group of teenage girls decided to be as hot and cool as the Donnas then it was all worth it.
Unfortunately, most talented people mistake consistency for commercialism and seek evolution and maturity. This wouldn’t be a problem if bands didn’t so frequently assume that slowing down, confessing insecurity and getting humorless is what mature, evolving people do. If more people realized that Bon Scott-era AC/DC was the best band ever, the Donnas would spend the rest of their career cranking out album after album of witty strut-rock, making only the most minor of thematic changes and honing an idealized persona.
This is why we get slumps like Gold Medal, where a band tries to get real or something. “It Takes One To Know One” offers nothing but bitter emasculation when they’d previously just giggle, hold up their pinkie at a dude and go back to the keg. “I Don’t Wanna Know (If You Don’t Want Me)” and “Don’t Break Me Down” attempt to admit emotional vulnerability lyrically but, aside from the country-rock title track, the band seems incapable of playing in anything but the key of badass. There are much worse things than a band that can’t drag even when they’re trying, though. The worst Donnas beats the best Velvet Revolver, or, in the case of “Fall Behind Me” and, heh, “Revolver”, sounds like the best Velvet Revolver.
Brett Anderson has always been the weakest link, so pointing out weak rhymes and the frequent unconvincing moments (she’s upstaged by the background vocals on the highlight “It’s So Hard”) seems cruel. I feel bad saying it, but I wish someone with showbiz skills (Kelly O, perhaps?) would take over. I guess chivalry and attraction makes me want to treat them with more respect than I offer Audioslave (who should replace Chris Cornell with Rod Stewart). I still enjoy this album's foxy instrumental flash and that they named the album after the most atypical and assured track gives me hope that they’ll find a new look that fits. It also makes me guess they’ll immediately abandon it on the follow-up.
Reviewed by: Anthony Miccio
Reviewed on: 2004-12-16