It ain't pretty being easy... (soopageek) wrote,
It ain't pretty being easy...

Top 100 Albums Project: 94 & 95

I'm finding it's easier to do these two at a time...  And so far, the pairs have tied together in some form or another.  Numbers 94 and 95 on my countdown both hail from the vast genre of chick rock.  Anyone who has evenly briefly discussed music with me knows that girl bands are near and dear to my heart.  So without further ado....

Soopageek's Favorite 100 Albums

94. American Teenage Rock And Roll Machine - The Donnas (Lookout, 1998)

Yeah, I know I'm gonna catch a lot of shit for having this in my list, but I can't help it.  So shut up and read it if you want or skip on down to the uber-hipness of the Breeders entry below.  That said...

I love this record!  The Allmusic Guide entry pegs it perfectly when they say the Donnas are "the Ramones meets the Runaways".  With concern to the former, it is more than an homage with their first names all being "Donna"; on this and their first,self-titled album, they prove that they have done their homework by studying every nuance of the Johnny Ramone riff-book.  With concern to the latter, they have always played-up their truant, jailbait sexuality.  A lot of people dismiss the Donnas because of their lack of introspection, their shallow lyrical subjects, and their simple three-chord crunch.  This is precisely why I love this album.  But why this record over their others?  Their first album, while charming in its lo-fi production was too much of a mess to be enjoyable and since the recording of American Teenage Rock and Roll Machine their sound has drifted more towards the Runaways and away from the Ramones.  This record marks that brief moment where they stood on the precipice of remaining an underground curiosity or securing a regular spot on the Warped tour.  Are the Donnas calculated rock and roll bad-ass?  Certainly. I saw them play in Columbus a few years ago at Bernie's which doesn't have much in the way of a stage, it's basically corner of the room.  The club was wall-to-wall and when the crowd surged toward the stage, the look on lead-singer-Donna's face was one of absolute fear.  Ruyter Suys, Courtney Love, or Joan Jett would've put the business end of a guitar in someone's face and then probably buy them a beer after the show. 

But that's not to say they can't make a fun record.  The album opens with "Rock 'n' Roll Machine" with its stuttering rhythm, Ramones-riffs, and bratty, defiant lyrics:

What you gonna do? Where you gonna go? I ain't into goin' steady
Don't do this, don't do that - I'll grow up when I'm ready

And they continue to play on that sort of outcast, rock and roll teen cliche through-out the record, sometimes lacing it with bits of punk nihilism as in "Checkin' It Out":

I know what I want tonight and I see it comin' off the street
I'm goin' nowhere and I'm only seventeen

And while the guitar riff and the complimenting bass line in "Looking For Blood" is nothing short of awesome, it's hard to take Donna seriously when she sings:

It just takes two slashes of my switchblade, baby, gonna make a pretty mess of you

And the album is brimming with overt, but naive sexual references that are sometimes laughable and other times endearing:

from "Speed Demon":
Come over here, man, wanna be my ride?
Keep the windows up so we can both get high.
So you say you're gonna show me how to have some fun.
Step aside, boy, I'll show you how it's done.

or from "Outta My Mind":
Are you ready to party with me?
Are you ready to give me some sin?
'Cause I've been waiting all night long,
So come on and stick it in.

But probably the most satisfying song is "Gimmie My Radio" with its chanting chorus reminiscent of "Blitzkrieg Bop" and Nikki Corvette reference, they deliver a motto we would all do well to live by:
I don't wanna eat these vegetables.
I don't wanna read this book no more.
I just wanna go to the rock 'n' roll show, so gimmie my radio, gimmie my radio

With all the intense introspection provided us by emo, nu-metal, and nouveau-wave in this post-grunge era of dysfuntion, it's refreshing to have some records that aren't about anything other than sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  The Donnas may be a homogenized, toned-down, almost cartoonish version of the real-deal, but it makes them accessible to a wider audience, which isn't always such a bad thing. 

Especially in an age when "the kids" think Avril Lavigne is a punk rocker.

95. Pod - The Breeders (4AD/Elektra, 1990)

In the history of side-projects, the Breeders's first album stands as a testament to how good it can be when it's done right.  Bored with their second-banana status in their respective bands, guitarists Kim Deal (Pixies) and Tonya Donnelly (Throwing Muses) formed the Breeders as an outlet for their frustrations with Perfect Disaster bassist Josephine Wiggs and journeyman drummer extra-ordinaire Jim MacPherson (Guided By Voices, the Amps) under the pseudonym "Mike Hunt". In my mind, this album also marks one of Steve Albini's finest moments as a producer, an approach he would later use (and arguably perfect for the power-trio dynamic) with his own band Shellac.  Each instrument is recorded with such clarity and mixed so that none of it muddles or blends together.  The drums are crisp and bright and the guitars are perfect compliments in either stereo channel.  The bass rumbles in and out, not too weak nor over-bearing as in a lot of Albini productions.  The vocals, while not always flattering for Ms. Deal's limited range, sit right on top of it all with its odd melodies and fragmented lyrics. The Breeders exhibit extreme focus on this record with the total of all twelve tracks clocking in at just under 30 minutes.  They structure and arrange their song, accomplish their mission, then get it over with little room for flourish, excess, or ornamentation.  This musical economy coupled with the afore mentioned production values lends the entire album a sharp, angular feel; just as a song is beginning to build momentum and mass, it's over and on to the next one.  Most of the songs can be placed into one of two categories: the quirky, tight and upbeat or the drunken, sloppy, and sad.  Of the latter, this is typified by the beautiful "Oh!", with it's wailing vocals and violin accompaniement courtsey of sometimes "fifth Breeder" Carrie Bradley.  Another interesting song of note in this category is their hard-rockin' treatment of the Beatles' "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", which alternates between staccato drum hammering and lazy guitar strumming.  Of the former category, these abound and are the most fun -  the melodic playfulness of "Doe" and "Hellbound", the happy-shiny harmonies of "Fortunately Gone", or the totally rockin' "Lime House".  If you're only familiar with this band due to the success of their platinum Last Splash album (sans Donnelly + Kim's whacko sister) do yourself a favor and rectify that as soon as possible.

96.  Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) - Praxis
97.  7-Toku - Space Streakings
98.  Thank Heaven For Little Girls - The Dwarves
99.  The Blue Hearts - The Blue Hearts
100. Hustler's Convention - Lightnin' Rod

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