After capturing our attention, and that of the world, with her EP Thrush Metal, Stella Donnelly’s debut album has been hotly anticipated, and the timing of her release could not be more impeccable. Known for her withering commentary on the patriarchy, unflinching honesty, and courage in calling out abuse, this is the album that we need in the wake of recent events.
Thrush Metal was released during a seismic shift in popular culture – the swell of the #metoo movement. Now, Beware of the Dogs picks up where we left off, but with a whole lot more abusers caught up in the tide. Once beloved musicians, actors and people we thought were ‘one of us’ have not been immune, and we are being forced to cast a critical eye on people who we once idolised.
Opening track Old Man does just this. While rumours abound questioning who the song is about, we can take the lyrics and apply them to the many men who have let us down. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face” is a traumatic line, not just for the outrageousness of the act, but also because it touches on something many of us can relate to. Perhaps what is most devastating about Donnelly’s lyrics is the fact that they hit so close to home. Boys Will Be Boys, previously included on the EP, is another shattering reflection on the culture that has allowed abuse to happen. Although we have heard it before, it remains goose bump inducing, and is a poignant highlight.
On a personal level, Donnelly also touches on the let downs of her own relationships. There are frank reflections on love, loss, and the once tabooed female masturbation, in tracks like the dreamy Mosquito, the short & sweet Bistro, and the emotive Allergies. Speaking of, the odd sniffle and slightly stuffy vocal in Allergies is surprisingly endearing and moving, making it a wonderful moment on the album. Similarly, Lunch, full of string noise, vocalisations, and vibrato, is tender and heartfelt.
Donnelly sings in the vernacular with a soprano voice and her gentle, sometimes pop compositions sit in contrast to the gravitas of her lyrics. The sweetest tune may have the darkest message. Occasionally, in songs such as Season’s Greetings, a jangly two and a half minute track, her swear words feel a bit contrary rather than robust, but regardless of that, the themes she touches on are unmissable, unmistakable, and important. She has an ability to translate heavy material into something beautiful and thought provoking. This record feels like a comrade for the times in which we find ourselves, as is Stella Donnelly.