Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Donkeys - Born with Stripes

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It’s rare in this modern world in which we live, where so much is conducted on a global scale, that one can instantly pin a band to a particular part of the world. Putting this album on before going anywhere near any press material, it becomes instantly and possibly painfully obvious that The Donkeys are from Southern California. I check the press release. I’m right.

The Donkeys have produced an album that owes more than a nod to this region’s great heritage. The parallels to the Fifth Dimension era work of The Byrds and the driftier parts of Buffalo Springfield’s oeuvre are totally unavoidable and it would be pointless not to mention them in passing. But to lean too heavily on these comparisons would not really be fair, since these bands are peerless and magical and The Donkeys are, for the most part, a bit ordinary.

It’s not fair to say that they’re ordinary because they’re not very good; it’s more that they seem to be trying a little too hard to cram in as many psychedelic references as they can fit on a record: reverb-heavy harmonies, reverb-heavy guitars, drifting melodies, the odd random sound and even a sitar all make an appearance. What this leads to is an album with little cohesion, which is almost instantly annoying and feels a little derivative.

Occasional high points do exist on this record though, with a particular favourite being Bullfrog Blues, which is a nice little 3-minute psychedelic pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on Elektra’s legendary Nuggets compilation. Here I feel that the band truly achieve their aims. It’s a great little number, but it’s followed by a seven-minute noodle entitled Valerie, which is clearly meant to call to mind CSNY’s fragile and beautiful Guinevere. And this is, perhaps in essence, why this album doesn’t work for me. Touted by the record label as a modern re-working of some of the elements of 60s psychedelia, it really isn’t. It’s actually a bit difficult to listen to without treating it as some kind of I-Spy exercise in spotting 1960s Californian influences. Shame.

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