With that in mind, Bitchin' is one kick-ass album for anyone, but if you're a fan of hair metal and 80s arena rock? Heaven, pure loud, sparkly, Aqua-Net/L.A. Looks HEAVEN.
There are a lot of albums and bands that talk about being influenced by various styles, and letting that influence show through in different ways, and The Donnas are no different. Spend the Night always gave me flashbacks to Side A of KISS's Dressed to Kill. Hard driving, three minute rock with balls and absolutely...tasty...guitar. With Gold Medal the feel was different. This was in part a deliberate decision by the band to let their love of bands like Cheap Trick influence the songwriting, but also due to drummer Torry Castellano's issues with tendinitis that eventually required surgery. Although Torry played on the album after the surgery, she had to learn how to drum with "proper" technique, and could only play for short periods of time. This lead to Gold Medal having a somewhat less heavy sound with a wider range of musical styles throughout the album. While there were only two singles that most people knew about, Fall Behind Me, whose opening lick you couldn't miss for a year on VH1, and the nigh-Homage du Cheap Trick that was I Don't Wanna Know (If You Don't Want Me), (an amusing choice for a single, as it's written from the POV of a female stalker), I really liked Gold Medal. It's often easy for a band to crank out the same album over and over. I mean, look at Boston. They released the same album with the same song three times. So for a band known for hard-driving straightforward bar rock, Gold Medal was a risk, and one I'm glad they took. Besides the singles, my favorite song on the album is the title track. The tune is jaunty, the lyrics less so, but it's melodic, and fun, and a song that not only makes me want to sing along, but was a true surprise for me. In this day and age of marketing committee-determined sound, any band willing to throw a random left turn of a song on an album gains +10 on my scale just for trying. When it works as well as Gold Medal, (the song and the album), booyah.
If it was possible to do more of a 180° from Gold Medal than Bitchin', I'm not sure how. Where Gold Medal was at times muted, Bitchin' is...big. Big Drums. Big Reverb. Big Echo. Big EVERYTHING. It's everything I ever liked about hair metal and arena rock, and none of the stuff I hated. (Read: Brett Anderson may not be Robert Plant or Ann Wilson, but I also don't have to listen to her being Mark Slaughter or Joey Tempest, and that's a very good thing.) Torry Castellano's drums jackhammer 4/4 into your skull and out of your ass, taking your spine with it. But she avoids the sin of plodding through it ala Rick Allen. Yes, the drum lines are not anything ala Bonham or Peart, but they are played skillfully, and with care. One of my favorite drum parts on the album is in the first release from the album, Don't Wait Up for Me, a song that should be in the dictionary next to "anthem rock", and one that is sure to be a hit for any group planning a night of serious drinking. That's not to say that every song is her trying to do permanent damage to her kit. Torry's work on Wasted is another example of her skill as a timekeeper, and shows her ability to neatly move between the piledriver needed for Don't Wait Up For Me and a less thunderous, yet still hard-driving drum line. The opening to What Do I Have To Do will give moments of "I CAN HAZ WHITE STRIPES?" in the way it echos Blue Orchid, while other tracks like Save Me and Here for the Party have all the fills and cowbells you'd expect from a Def Leppard track. In truth, Here for the Party could almost be a Def Leppard song. That's not a bad thing, by the way, nor accidental, as the band has stated that this album was heavily influenced by Def Leppard and other giants of the late 80s.
The second leg of the rhythm triumvirate of The Donnas, bassist Maya Ford shines here for the same reasons as Castellano. While her role this album is not as prominent as on Gold Medal's Friends Like Mine, Don't Break Me Down, and Is That All You've Got, she is still a critical part of that combination of melody and hard driving rock which makes my li'l ol' heart go boom-boom when I listen to them. Then again, as aggressive as Maya plays, that could be my spine, it's hard to tell sometimes. (I'd swear she's trying to find the infamous "Brown Noise".) Maya's bass playing complements both the drums and the guitar, achieving that tricky balance that requires avoidance of being too overpowering and fading so far back that she may as well not be there. While shining as a bass player in a twenty-minute per song prog rock ensemble is sometimes a matter of waiting your turn for your solo, doing it in three minutes when you are playing between a drummer like Castellano and Allison Robertson's amazing guitar is tricky as hell, yet Maya pulls it off with aplomb, and onstage, a look that says you might get the headstock of that Gibson in an uncomfortable spot should you give her any shit.
It is impossible to talk about a Donnas' album without massive amounts of superlatives for Allison Robertson and her Gibsons. It's actually pretty hard not to gush like a sixth grader with a crush, especially if you're a fan of the kind of playing that Allison is so damned good at. The truth is, I'm a sucker, a total sap for a guitar player who can manage to play blistering lead and solid rhythm, and smoothly move between each. One of the reasons I have loved The Donnas since I first heard them has been their sense of melody. They aren't just hard to show they have bigger cocks than the guys, and in the effort, turn songs into collections of instruments. Every part in every song never loses track of the song. It's a quality that all my favorite guitar players share, from Page to Prince to Giraldo to Robertson. Yes, she does belong in that group too. Honestly, I think she's one of the top five active guitar players, and to be brutally blunt I'd piss on Clapton tickets to hear her play. (Okay, deal. Clapton's been sucking so much old black blues guy cock for so long that he's stopped being Eric Clapton, and turned into the Muddy Waters Tribute Band. When Clapton starts doing his own music again, ala 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand, i'll start listening to him again. In the mean time, when i want to hear Muddy, I'll buy Muddy's albums.) She can hammer out power chords that will kick your nuts out of your spine, play blistering leads in a variety of styles, but it's never overdone.
Someone told me once that when they heard her play, the word "tasty" came to mind, and I can't disagree. Even when she's flinging notes out as fast as she can, there's never a sense that she doesn't care about each and every one of them. Like I said, tasty. On Bitchin', she shows off yet another side of her playing in homage after homage to every solo you ever heard from every hair metal band. Listening to Bitchin', I kept saying "Ooh...Scorpions...Slaughter...Kix..." and so on. But it wasn't just copying. All her licks are most definitely her, but she's able to copy the flavor of a dozen different artists. That's a tricky thing to do, and her ability to pull it off makes me want to sit in a dark room with good headphones and try to pull out every layer on every song. That's something that not many guitarists beyond Page and Prince inspire in me, and every time I listen to her playing, especially in "Turn 21" and later, i hear something else that I missed the last time. The fact that she's not regularly on the covers of more guitar magazines just shows how retarded the music press can be. As both an amateur guitar player for the last five or so years, and a guitar aficionado/fan for over thirty years, I can say that the fact Allison isn't viewed as a friggin' guitar god is astounding to me.
In truth, Bitchin' is both a kick - ass rock album, and a disk of mini-homages to various bands. The cowbell opening to "Here For The Party" could just as easily lead into "Rock of Ages". The opening guitar in "Wasted" brings to mind a slightly-distant conglomeration of The Cure/She Wants Revenge/Bahaus, while "Don't Wait Up For Me" makes you think of some Marvel-inspired "What If Joan Jett was in Bon Jovi?" alternate universe thriller. The lead-in to "Better Off Dancin" brings to mind the opening guitar bits to "I Ran", while "Give Me What I Want" reminds me of why the aforementioned first side of "Dressed To Kill" is still one of my favorite album sides of all time. One point I find interesting is that while you can get Bitchin' on iTunes, that's not really the best place. My personal favorite site for this album is on their 11spot page, where you can not only download the album in MP3 format at 192Kbps, but you can also get the physical CD, or (JOY!) the album on actual VINYL. PURPLE VINYL! Yeah, yeah, digital's better. Well, album art on CD's sucks rancid donkey cock, and everyone with a clue knows that album art kicks CD art's ass. Besides, look at the love for the 80s in the CD cover art and on the CD itself, and the fact that the album is on purple vinyl. They're even selling Nagel t-shirts! OMG80sSQUEEE!!!!!! I mean holy shit, if it came with a Versace jacket, it couldn't be more 80s. I don't often say this, but if you're thinking of picking up Bitchin', fuck iTunes. Get it at 11spot, it's just a better deal. (Oh for Donnas fans, they keep up their tradition of including a cover amongst the originals. This time? Safety Dance. That's right. Safety Dance. Sweet.
In conclusion, Bitchin' is Bitchin', The Donnas kick ass, and i can't wait for their show on the 27th in Omaha.