Like her Australian compatriot Julia Jacklin‘s recent album Crushing, Stella Donnelly‘s debut is an album that repays repeated listens. First impressions are a collection of jangly indie-pop that sound perfect for the summer months that lie so tantalisingly ahead. However, it soon becomes clear that Beware Of The Dogs is an album that’s unafraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects.
It’s there right from the off in Old Man, an anthem for the #MeToo movement with lines like “your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face”, before the defiant chorus of “are you scared of me old man, or are you scared of what I’ll do?”. Put it this way, it’ll be a long time before Ryan Adams covers this particular song.
For those familiar with Donnelly’s work though, this ‘iron fist in a silk glove’ approach will come as no surprise. The song that put her on the map as a songwriter to watch, Boys Will Be Boys, is a quiet, contemplative musing on rape and victim blaming (“why was she all along, wearing her shirt that low? They said ‘boys will be boys'”). It sounds just as powerful in the middle of the album as it did on its original release.
Despite the serious subject matters Donnelly tackles, there’s a wicked vein of humour running through Beware Of The Dogs. U Owe Me is the sardonic tale of walking out on a bar job (“you’re jerking off to the CCTV, while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB”) and Tricks is a kiss-off to male hecklers who’d shout abuse during early gigs – “you said I’d look much better if I dropped the attitude”.
Donnelly never forgets the importance of a good melody either. One of the best tracks, the frantic, peppy Die has an instantly addictive quality to it, while the beautifully wistful Mosquito is an acoustic lament about unrequited love with some disarmingly honest lyrics – “I used my vibrator, wishing it was you” – together with a turn of phrase that can be inexplicably touching (“I wanna bring you cake back home from work, but you’re allergic”).
Much of the politics here is personal, but on the title track Donnelly takes a look at environmental destruction and pinning the blame on Australia’s politicians. “There’s no Parliament worthy of this country’s side, all these pious fucks taking from the 99” she snarls. It’s a testimony to her talent that she can be so blisteringly furious one minute, and then the next painting a portrait of a truly awful boyfriend on Watching Telly (“he was 27, I was 21, he liked Ernest Hemingway, I liked watching telly”).
For a debut it’s a remarkably confident and assured album, while hinting at even greater things to come in future years. There’s a rich wave of talent crashing in from the Southern Hemisphere at the moment, and Beware Of The Dogs gives notice that Stella Donnelly will soon be being talked of in the same breath as the likes of Courtney Barnett and Camp Cope pretty soon.