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Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs (Album Review)

Friday, 15 March 2019 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Pooneh Ghana

Stella Donnelly’s bite is far worse than her bark. On her debut album, ‘Beware of the Dogs’ some scathing remarks—mostly focusing on inequality, sexual misconduct and toxic masculinity—are tied up neatly in sickly sweet melodies.

They’re a little like the nursery rhymes your grandmother might have sung to you, until Donnelly’s innocent, dulcet voice slices through the cute on songs like Old Man. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face,” she sings.

The best thing about Donnelly is that she says it like it is—and ‘it’ is some pretty heavy subject matter. Rape, victim shaming, racism, abusers and male entitlement are all under scrutiny thanks to her confident delivery, intelligent digs and bitter sarcasm.

On Season’s Greetings, a song about a family get together going awry, she simply states “my mum’s still a punk, and you’re still shit”. It ends with her whispering to one irritating attendee she’d rather be avoiding: “Fuck up your life. Lose all your friends. You can go. Alright. Yeah. Fuck off then. OK. Good. Fuck off.”

That’s nothing new. Her debut EP, ‘Thrush Metal’, introduced Donnelly as a songwriter who wasn’t scared of calling out all the shitty things humans are capable of. She wrote Boys Will Be Boys back in 2017, which got a release just three days before the Harvey Weinstein scandal began and the #MeToo movement started to gain traction.

Also featured on the new album, the song is just as relevant now. In a statement to DIY, Donnelly said the message against victim shaming and rape culture still needs to be heard, and that if she has to put the song on the next album too, she will.

What is new here is the evolution of Donnelly’s production choices, alongside Dean Tuza. Whereas ‘Thrush Metal’ saw her sticking closely to the typical singer-songwriter formation with a single voice and guitar, ‘Beware of the Dogs’ is built around a full band, making way for a richer, more mature and well-rounded sound. The upbeat guitar-pop of Tricks and sunny, synth-led Die feel more assured, and are pristine in their presentation.

But the intimacy of those solo songs that gained her so much traction is not lost. Mosquito, Allergies, U Owe Me and Face It are more pared back affairs, where the relationship between Donnelly, her words and her incredible finger-picking skills are still closely entwined and ready to tug at your well-worn heartstrings.

It’s delicate songs like these that are helped by a small push on the production side of things—a pinch of reverb added to the ping-pong rhythm on Allergies, calming, supportive backing harmonies towards the end of U Owe Me, and a synth taking on the middle eight during Face It.

‘Beware of the Dogs’ is a record that teaches terrible people how to behave, and will stand its ground whether they listen or not. Donnelly delivers these missives wrapped in beautifully written, humourous pop songs, but the finest moments come when she is most sincere. Either way, she has a clear message: just stop being so shit.

Stella Donnelly Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue April 23 2019 - CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
Wed April 24 2019 - BRISTOL Thekla
Thu April 25 2019 - SOUTHAMPTON Southampton Joiners
Sat April 27 2019 - BRIGHTON Haunt
Sun April 28 2019 - MANCHESTER YES
Mon April 29 2019 - DUBLIN The Grand Social
Wed May 01 2019 - GLASGOW The Blue Arrow Jazz Club
Thu May 02 2019 - LEEDS Brudenell Community Room
Sat May 04 2019 - LIVERPOOL Sound City
Sun May 05 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social
Tue May 07 2019 - LONDON Scala

Click here to compare & buy Stella Donnelly Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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