July 18, 2008
CD Of The Week: CSS: Donkey: The Dead Donkey
By Fiona Shepherd
CSS: DONKEY *** WARNERS, GBP 11.99IT'S always nice to receive surprise guests at the pop music party. While the industry wrings its hands at its sliding fortunes, and places its bets on the most safe, conservative choices, there are still some gatecrashers squeezing in through the boundary fence.
In 2006, Brazilian sextet CSS arrived on our shores, unannounced and seemingly uninvited, and quickly became the life and soul of the touring and festival circuit. These five electro minxes, plus one moustachioed maestro, formed in Sao Paolo in 2003, take their name from a Beyonce quote ("tired of being sexy"), which translates into their native Portuguese as Cansei de Ser Sexy.
Fronted by the irrepressible Lovefoxx, they were a bundle of insouciant synth-driven fun, whose eponymous debut album contained insidiously bouncy songs such as Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above, written, they claimed, in the hope that the namechecked Canadian duo would hear the song and want to meet them.
Music fans in the UK quickly warmed to this guileless band who now claim that they didn't fully comprehend their own rather suggestive lyrics as they were still getting to grips with English at the time. They ended up spending so much time over here that all but two members chose to relocate to London. One moved to New York, and another was unwilling to sign up for full-time pop stardom and left the band to concentrate on fashion design.
Now with an English drummer on board, they are looking to prove that their debut was no fluke. Unfortunately, Donkey does not help their case. Somewhere along a line which includes sudden success, finding love, falling out with their manager and becoming fluent in English, they have lost sight of that carefree exuberance and accidental originality which made them so appealing in the first place.
This is a more groomed collection, seemingly in line with their contention that they have always seen themselves as a pop group rather than a crossover club act.
It is not that Donkey is a bad album; it just doesn't especially grab you by the scruff of the neck, even when Lovefoxx is raising the flag like a Latino Bjork on opening track Jager Yoga, with the self-referential statement of intent that "we didn't come into the world to walk around, we came here to take you out, come with us, we'll make a toast for this time about to come".
Reggae All Night is closer to their debut, with its sultry vocals, syndrums and insidious New Wave disco incitement to party. It's a sound almost worthy of the sequined catsuits which have become Lovefoxx's trademark, but was done better first time around.
Rat Is Dead (Rage), which sticks two fingers up at their ex- manager, takes a heavier rock direction for them, while the propulsive post-punk of Give Up is a good sound rather than a good song.
Much of the rest of the album follows this underwhelming pattern. The single Left Behind is an engaging enough electro pop track about coping with being on your own, Beautiful Song doesn't exactly live up to its title, while How I Became Paranoid rolls in on cheesy 80s synths - it is never a good sign when you are reminded of second division 90s rave rockers Republica.
Eight songs in, the lightweight but charming Move provides the first genuinely catchy chorus of the album, as Lovefoxx, demonstrating how far she has come in cultivating a strong grasp of colloquial English, dispenses the immortal advice "you better get your move on, or all the good ones will have gone", but stops short of adding that "there's plenty more fish in the sea" and "it's not you, it's me".
Also on the more memorable side, I Fly is a taut, pacey, urgent rocker, in which Lovefoxx imagines herself as more than just a fly- on-the-wall. There is a whiff of stalker mentality to the closing line "I just hope you understand, I just wanna be your friend".
But she demonstrates a more appropriate, empathetic intimacy on Believe Achieve when she declares "I'm going to wear your shoes today, walk around the block, hear what your neighbours have to say". Again, it shows that it doesn't take much for CSS to charm, as Lovefoxx trills that "evidently love was created just for me and you, people say it's not, but I know it's true".
They round off this late run with a pleasingly off-kilter indie pop number, Air Painter, the one slight change of style on the album which takes them in an interesting new direction. So they haven't lost that spirit entirely. With their balloon-covered stage set and animal face make-up, CSS are evidently still up for the party. It's just that, on this occasion, the soundtrack is not quite up to scratch.
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