Stella Donnelly ain't going to take any shit. Abusive men, idiot bosses and clueless exes all get it in the ear on this debut album but, as on her debut EP Thrush Metal, she is armed with loads of lovely tunes. Her winsome, post-grunge songwriting has something in common with the early records of Liz Phair and she has a way of tempering her anger with an ability to bring out the beauty in the world.
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The most impressive thing about Stella Donnelly's debut EP Thrush Metal was that it managed to combine a pent-up anger with absolutely glorious melodies. A lot of young DIY indie has the rage, the edge, and the enthusiasm but lacks what we are all here for when push comes to shove. Actual. Good. Songs. Not so with Donnelly.
Her first full length, Beware of the Dogs, starts in similarly glorious style with 'Old Man' - matching lyrics warning an elder male about his behaviour to the sort of sunny day melody you'll hear on albums like the Go-Betweens' '16 Lovers Lane'. The immediate switch in pace to the slo-mo, Lily Allen-ish 'Mosquito' is either very brave or slightly frustrating if, like me, you care about the flow of albums. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the song or its droll lyrics about using a vibrator instead of a missing lover, but it does somewhat feel that the momentum built up by the first track is quickly lost.
It soon transpires that this is kinda how Donnelly rolls, as the relatively upbeat 'Seasons Greetings' is followed by the slow-as-snails 'Allergies' in which, once again, Donnelly seems to be trying to channel Lily Allen's mix of sweet vocals and acerbic lyrical couplets.
It seems throughout that Donnelly can't decide whether she wants to be pop-fired melodic songwriter or confessional troubadour. As such I still can't quite get on with the flow of the record, but in this Spotify-dominated age of shuffled playlists it perhaps doesn't matter which order the songs come in. 'Boys Will Be Boys' is lifted from her debut, and its tale of sexual assault is just as hard-hitting and shocking as it was the first time round. The title track, too, is a superbly constructed, confessional story song that again keeps anger in check by way of stunning melodies.
So it's the sort of record maybe not intended for middle-aged folk like me who grew up with linear albums intended to be heard in strict order. But it's a catchy, entertaining and thought-provoking record by an artist that we are sure is, rightly, going to be very popular. At her best Stella Donnelly has that spark of class and originality that will make her stand out from the herd.
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- Beware of the Dogs by Stella Donnelly
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