Album Reviews

CSS – Donkey

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 21 July 2008

CSS - Donkey We all loved them first time round. Even if you hated their funky punk electro dance bop, you had to love checking out Lovefoxxx’s sparkly all-in-one numbers. Let’s Make Love, the tiny Brazilian lump of pop cheek she sang as she jumped and writhed around the stage like a teen just off Ritalin, sequins of every colour hitting the mirror ball with great precision, was the sound of 2006.

Now with a second album to peddle, are CSS a one-hit wonder, one-album outfit, or can they give us more? Are they hung like a Donkey, or clapped out like a knackered mule?

Let’s not beat around the bush; Donkey is not the greatest thing since the peanut Kit-Kat, yet there’s some indie-tastic fun with a hint of electro punk, a bit like Gossip but swapping the Ditto scream for Lovefoxxx’s sultry, breathily seductive whisper. And they still carry off their youthful sound, despite being ancient in musical terms these days. Apart from the old one, they must be – what? – 21 or something?

Jager Yoga is a great start, sounding like the same ole bunch from Cansei De Ser Sexy (apart from the one who’s no longer in the band, lost on a carousel somewhere between Brazil and CSS’s new London base). A jerky, chunky sound grounds it, even if it is a mere pigeon-step away from other electro-punk hybrids. Off-centre harmonies are a nice touch – different, weird, un-commercial. The shouts – a favourite of such bands as Operator Please, Black Kids, all the others – is of the time and might grate later. But for now, shout some more. Rat Is Dead (Rage) has a New York garage undertone and a Strokes-esque guitar sound – you can tell they’ve spent some time in the city.

Beyond that, uncertainty creeps in. Let’s Reggae All Night pinches every ’80s stereotype and squeezes them into something that sounds more Duran Duran than alt-dance-rock. And on the plodding, generic, dull Give Up, is that the sound of the band getting fed up with themselves?

Lead single Left Behind, although featuring minute touches of some American teeny bopper Skater Girl claptrap, is better. Catchy and with a bit of the edginess that made CSS so approachable before, it’s a highlight, yet is still in no way raw enough to bring back that feeling of hearing something different and clever.

It’s a theme throughout most of Donkey, a record that tries too hard to fit in rather than carrying on with the rough diamond approach we all loved. CSS were crazy weirdos who didn’t give a shit about taking the piss out of Christina Aguilera and could play a cheesy punk tune. By contrast, this just sounds safe.

If you can last that far, there are some hidden gems at the end, just as the Donkey’s legs are giving up under the strain. Move, despite starting like a package holiday tune from ’84, gets you… moving. And I Fly, a different kettle of fish, has a great, distorted riff, like a fly buzzing around your face.

Believe Achieve (“I kiss you in the photo-booth”) also sports a catchy tune with a pinch of originality and a sugar cube of Brazilian bonkers, and the album ends on a high with Air Painter. Donkey, trot on for now. You’re not glue just yet, but on this evidence you’re not likely to be mistaken for a thoroughbred any time soon either.

buy CSS MP3s or CDs
Spotify CSS on Spotify

More on CSS
CSS – Planta
CSS @ Hoxton Square Bar + Kitchen, London
CSS – La Liberación
CSS – Donkey
CSS @ Astoria, London