The Donnas
Bitchin’
2007
D



this is what happens when you regret growing up. From 1997 to 2002 the Donnas made a gradually improving series of snottily backward-looking albums. The faux-sibling nomenclature was the Ramones, but the rest of the band was the Runaways, and if the shtick lacked the freshness and complexity it had in the '70s, in a way it was freer for it, candy requiring little analysis before sucking. Which was why Gold Medal was so dismaying: the Donnas heterogenized their names and got defensive about their status as a Real Band, which all bands are until they think there's a chance they aren't.

Gold Medal wasn't a disaster—major-label money was good for this band, gave their mixes depth and their handclaps oomph, and on some tracks they retained their old habit of bopping airily though clichés and bad meter before suddenly saying something really funny—but it wasn't a record that needed to be listened to. Even it didn't seem to think so.

Bitchin', meanwhile, reacts so nakedly and aggressively to Gold Medal's failures—the band's even off Atlantic—that these women should really all be named Donna again. That would be ridiculous and embarrassing, but it would be a lot like the record, less ragged and boring than its predecessor but surrounded Pig-Pen-style by fetid pastiche and the worst kind of knowing smile. First of all it's called Bitchin', which bodes badly enough before you see the cover, which aside from being kinda half-assed (ho ho) doesn't look designed by someone who misses the 1980s but by someone who thinks they were just as dumb as everyone says.

The music is the same. As immediate and worthy as some of these songs are, the chugging guitars and oar-bank handclaps and background HEY!s don't sound like the work of a band that really likes this music and wishes it'd been around to make it at the time and probably deserved to be, the way the Donnas' old jailbait anthems could; they sound like bad one-liners. It's a strange and narrow line the album crosses, because of course it's not as if the Donnas didn't know they were joking when they put on pyjamas and lolled around in a fake bedroom and called an album Spend The Night—but the old aggressive faith in their heroines is gone, as if with Gold Medal they put away childish things and can't remember where.

Only when they go so far over the top it's as funny as they think do the new Donnas succeed—when they scream "G-I-R-L T-A-L-K" over what sounds like a foundry it's kinda great—but since they can't do anything else without sounding like they're making fun of Lita Ford Bitchin' has no nuance or range or dynamism. They used to want to be Lita Ford.

So there are moments: "Don't Wait Up for Me" and "Girl Talk" and "Smoke You Out" all deserve their wacky-choice places on mixes, and "Love You Till It Hurts" isn't bad at limning and selling sadomasochism, but smirk like this for a whole album and your face is going to freeze that way. Whether it's worse than Gold Medal depends on whether you prefer dullards to cynics. It's about as unnecessary.



Reviewed by: Theon Weber
Reviewed on: 2007-09-25
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