CSS’ debut was a collection of postmodern private gags set to acrobatic electro bleeps and thuds. It was brilliant, a defining record of 2006, but a gnawing doubt remained; were they just a playful art-house prank or, worse, the greatest novelty act of all time? ‘Donkey’ proves not. This is an album of ambition and depth and, although it will not inspire the same love that first album did, it will inspire a lot more thought.
It is no surprise, however, that stylistically ‘Donkey’ is several leaps on from ‘Cansei De Ser Sexy’. They’re too savvy to assume the DIY electro was ever going to survive the post-new rave zeitgeist cull. As such, they’ve largely dropped the bleeps, mining instead the twin obsessions of ’90s alt.rock and ’80s pop. Everything from the Breeders guitars to the Cyndi Lauper enthusiasm is washed in a slick (but not distasteful) pop sheen, clearly marking this band’s ambitions to break into radio world and take their unitard funbus off the indie circuit for good. As such it’s a thicker work than the first; no less rewarding, but perhaps not quite as exciting. The benefit of the fresh production is shown in Lovefoxxx’s vocals. As sophisticated and idiosyncratic as the lyrics on their debut were, they were often missed, buried within the mix. This time around though, the ’Foxxx enunciates proudly, drawing attention to her words – an instant signifier of the band’s new, serious perception of themselves. She still deals in odd, stilted lyricism, but its tone has changed. Where once it legitimised the manic eroticism of their songs, it now adds to her newly heartfelt prose a sense of Dadaist humanity. “I’m gonna take your eyes/Use them as a seed/Grow a big tree on the balcony” she sings on ‘Believe Achieve’ – a love song whose lyrics are as touching as they are unpredictable.
After a tough year, including the departure of bassist Ira Trevisan, a bitter split with their manager (also Ira’s ex-boyfriend) and the most gruelling tour schedule on the planet, it’s easy to see why they’re not interested in Paris Hilton any more. ‘Donkey’ addresses their stress, but refuses to let itself get bogged down with righteousness. ‘Rat Is Dead (Rage)’ tells the story of absent Ira’s fury at her boyfriend with cute poetry and a bullish guitar sound previously unexplored by the band. ‘Left Behind’ gushes with long-haul homesick misery and sad hedonism: “I’m gonna jump on to the table and dance my ass off ’til I die/And then I’ll hopefully forget you” Lovefoxxx laments, belying its glorious, bubbling new wave backdrop.
However on ‘I Fly’, over a thick, crunching Pixies-style guitar bed, their joyous surrealism is mistranslated into a bitter story of metamorphosis as the band turn into an insect to torture a rival. It’s The Beatles’ ‘Piggies’ updated: an unpleasant tirade whose ‘fun’ imagery can’t distract from the nasty emotional gutter it springs from. Other weaker points are the pedestrian ‘Air Painter’ and ‘Reggae All Night’. Much better is opener ‘Jager Yoga’, the oldest song on this set, played live for over a year and a neat bridge between the albums. Just as brilliant are ‘Move’ and ‘How I Became Paranoid’. Bouncing straight from Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ era, both are as vivacious and thrilling as anything CSS have done before. So, yes, it’s a tougher collection than the first, lacking the merciless hilarity you’d expect. But it’s also a strong step forward and one that proves they won’t disappear in the changing breeze of fashion.