She's All That starring Rachel Leigh Cook

The Donnas Turn 21 - The Donnas

By Wil Forbis
A lot has been written about The Donnas and their new album, "The Donnas Turn 21". The fact that they are rock prodigies of sorts and had a signed, touring band at an age when most kids are in high school has been well documented and commented on. It's also established that The Donnas have become critical favs, with their balls to the walls combination of 70's hard rock and punk thrust. But despite all that, what makes "The Donnas Turn 21" one of the great American albums is one, oft-ignored factor: Tone.

"Tone?" you ask, your eyes skull-poppingly wide. "Are you referring to The Donnas young, toned bodies? Are you simply fantasizing about their heaving, well-oiled, teenage bosoms in some sort of pedophiliac rock opera? Are you saying, Wil Forbis, that The Donnas success can merely be summed up as a case of sex appeal?"

No, you nimrod, that's not the tone I'm referring to. I'm talking about guitar tone. "The Donnas Turn 21", simply put, has one of the best guitar tones ever put to tape. Warm, but crunchy. Full, but with a pinpoint edge. This is the sort of sound rock guitars were meant to have. The question arises as to whether this wondrous guitar is the work of The Donnas or the album's co-producer, Robert Shimp. One cannot help but notice that previous Donnas albums (such as 1998's "American Teenage Rock'n'Roll Machine") did not have this same sonic frequency. Earlier Donnas guitars had the fuzz associated with mid-nineties garage rock, but not the sustain. The music bleed out of of your stereo speakers and then, like a Wiley E Coyote who has just realized that he's walked out into the open air past a cliff, fell to the ground. But on "21", the tunes catapult out of your car stereo and hang in the air for hours. Remember Nigel Tufnel talking about the sustain lasting forever? Well, what was merely a mockery of British rock dinosaurs in Spinal Tap has come to full fruition on this album. IT DOES LAST FOREVER!!!

That's not to say that good production is the only thing that drives this album. Earlier Donnas compositions were more extension of the Ramones school of songwriting, while "The Donnas Turn 21" has more of a debt to AC/DC's pop masterpiece "Back in Black". The difference? Chords played Ramones style have a steady throttle, AC/DC chords knock you around. Remember the intro to "You Shook Me All Night Long'? It knocked out percussive hits with the stilted rhythm of a bully slamming your head against the gym locker. Several of the new Donnas tunes apply similar bitch-slapping riffs, including the album opener, "Are You Gonna Move It For Me", and the catchy "40 Boys in 40 Nights." Other songs lay back into a steady rhythmic pound, as can be found on "Do you Wanna Hit It" and "Police Blitz." Either way, the songs here are unapologetically rockin' ; there's not a single song over three and a half minutes, and the tempo never dips anywhere near the realm of ballads. Like sex with your sister, it's fast and short. But unlike sibling carnal relations, you'll quite proudly lay claim to having participated in a Donnas listening party. (Indeed, nothing has ever made me want to be a pre-teen, female suburbanite more than "T21", as I think it would a blast to sneak my first cigarette with The Donnas blasting out of my Fisher-Price stereo and thoughts of black leather dancing throughout my head.)

Lyrically, The Donnas lay claim to some interesting territory on this album. Had "Turn 21" come out in the early nineties, they probably would have been lambasted by the punk scene for being too girly - for not addressing the intellectual needs of feminism in jagged, angry verse. But bands such as Bikini Kill and Heavens To Betsy managed to ride that concept to its logical epoch and girls are starting to celebrate being girls again. The Donnas complete a triad of bad girl bands starting with The Shangri Las and following through to The Runaways, with delightful "tuff girl" lyrics discussing boys, drinking alcohol, boys, smoking pot, catty female adversaries, and boys. While there's no doubt that the rhetoric and philosophy of the Riot Grrl scene was important and empowering to young women, one gets the feeling that what The Donnas sing about is more relevant to a girl's day-to-day life. "Turn 21" manages to capture the bite of the Kathleen Hanna crowd and combine it with the confidence that comes with being an attractive female into something equal parts revolution and celebration.

If there's one disappointment on Turn 21, I'd have to say it's the inclusion of Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight." Somehow this just seems too… obvious a choice for a cover song. What would have been more appro po would be a less renowned ditty from the metal catalogue, perhaps Priest's "Screaming For Vengeance" or a Bon Scott tribute in the form of "Beating Around The Bush." Even The Donnas seem aware of the blandness of their choice and deliver "…Midnight" with a lackluster performance. Unfortunately, when Rob Halford's snarl and KK Downing and Glen Tipton's neo-metal guitars are removed, the song reveals itself to be remarkably devoid of substance.

Nonetheless, that is the only blemish on an otherwise compelling album. Everyone from 45 year old metal heads holding out for a hard rock resurgence and 13 year punkettes primping their Mohawks amidst their first ovulations would do well to pick it up.


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