CSS seem to have had a tough time of it since their Brazilian art-punk debut got the party started in 2006. Allegedly being forced to commit to a gruelling touring schedule with little in the way of hard cash to show for their efforts, the band parted ways with its manager and “seventh member” Eduardo in a less than amicable split. Shortly after, bassist Ira Trevisan decided she’d had enough, choosing to pursue a career in fashion design (or unable to cope with the guilt of her carbon footprint, depending on who’s story you believe).
So in 2008, with a new, unforgivably titled, album in Donkey, is the party officially over for CSS? Well, yes, and no. Donkey sees the band continue to make music for the dancefloor but this time they mean business. Gone is the shambolic art school punk of album number one and in its place is a slick rock/’80s pop machine that has its sights set on the radio. No more artbitches after hot hot sex, they’ve moved to London (and New York), learnt to play their instruments, and rebranded themselves as serious chart contenders. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have the songs to back up this new approach, and Donkey ultimately lacks what made CSS so much fun in the first place.
The album certainly opens in party mood, with Lovefoxxx singing, “We didn’t come into the world to walk around / we came here to take you out,” on ‘Jåger Yoga’. This is followed up by the free download single, ‘Rat Is Dead (Rage)’, which is pure Breeders-style punk-pop. The band have been quoted as saying the song was written in support for ex-bassist Trevisan who severed her romantic involvement with ex-manager Eduardo after he allegedly swindled the band out of their hard-won wages. The lyrics describe Ira murdering him in a hotel room, and, needless to say, there isn’t much in the way of sympathy for this particular devil.
Unfortunately, after the initial promise of the first two tracks things go downhill fast. Lyrical sophistication has never been one of CSS’s strong points but ‘Let’s Reggae All Night’ is just plain lazy. After the alt-disco magic of ‘Let’s Make Love & Listen To Death From Above’, it’s quite a comedown. Ironic or not, it’s hard to imagine even Girls Aloud agreeing to sing the words, “If you are my friend we can drink in the afternoon, that’s cool,” in public.
And from there things go from bad to worse. The bitchy ‘Left Behind’ (again, aimed at Eduardo) is as cringeworthy as looking through your teenage diaries, while ‘Move’ is the kind of forgettable synth pop nonsense that wasn’t even acceptable in the ’80s. Things hint at picking up towards the end of the album, with ‘Believe Achieve’ (which sounds like ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’ by Lykke Li but without the chorus) but closer, ‘Air Painter’, isn’t even B-side worthy.
During the making of Donkey, CSS were clearly in no mood to party. Unfortunately, instead of making a morose slab of downbeat electronica to get it out of their systems, they’ve tried to keep dancing through the tears. And it really is tiring.
[WEA; June 21, 2008]