Friday, September 21, 2007


Here's the cover of the new Donnas album.

When you look at the back, it makes complete sense. Straight up eighties posturing.

But I have to wonder a couple of things. First: I am curious about the meaning of putting ass on the cover of your record. I know, the Donnas have always worked that jailbait/seductress thing, and I do appreciate that they're clothed all tough-like on the back here, not in corsets--more fatale than femme. But when Girlschool put an ass on their cover (the obvious reference here), what audience was that playing to, back in 1980?

And so, what about the Donnas? When is objectification tongue-in-cheek/kitsch? Or maybe the qualification is really, to whom--and can it ever be, fully? I know, I'm being all Bummer Feminist here. I'm just thinking aloud.

Design-wise, I'm not that interested in design that purely mimics a previous aesthetic. It seems lazy to me. And it also obviates the designer--where is your invention, your way of seeing? It's just pastiche. (I'm way more excited by, for example, the stunning opening credits of "Mad Men," which integrate 1960 mid-century minimalism with a modern illustrative sensibility--the Herman Miller and Knoll catalogs appear on screen for a moment, but they're the means, not the end.) Design has its own equivalent of Stone Temple Pilots--imitation so pure it's not even flattery, it's self-effacement. A fake so meticulously executed you'd think it's real. Which can be parasitic.(1)

The Donnas cover isn't parasitic, as it's not sucking the life force out of anything. Nostalgia is about the Over. And the eighties are definitely Over, though the nostalgia for them is through the roof. I'm curious about this, because the true believers, especially fashion-wise, seem to be mostly people who were born in the '80s or even '90s--the people who were basically babies, if that, the first time around. (Even though I was formatively age four to fourteen during that decade, I have pretty much zero nostalgia for the '80s. Maybe it's because I was living, literally and in my mind, in a woodland bubble with minimal/delayed pop culture exposure. We got three channels and I didn't watch them. I played in the woods and wrote horse novels. I never had a Madonna or Michael Jackson record. Totally missed David Bowie. Most '80s music I like now, I didn't discover until the '90s and the '00s. (2) )

Anyway, what I've heard of the Donnas record so far sounds exactly what the cover looks like. I really am not trying to dis the Donnas here. I think they are great musicians and performers and people. And I have a huge soft spot for pop-metal, despite the heinous misogyny of it (the lyrics to "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" will make any Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls believer's stomach turn)--it was the soundtrack to high school, and I am ever a sucker for an inescapable pop hook. So it's cool that women are reclaiming/reappropriating that sound for their own purposes.

I'm just saying: when I saw that big purple ass at the top of the eMusic charts this morning, it struck me in all these ways. It grabbed my attention, and got me to write all this stuff about it; and just by looking at it, you know exactly what the record sounds like.

So maybe, ultimately, it's a design coup.

(1) Remember when that first STP single "Plush" came out? (No, if you're lucky.) The exactness of the Pearl Jam imitation was stunning. They were the first (of many) to reduce Vedder from a voice to a mannerism, just like Silverchair did to Cobain, et al., ad nauseum. The chameleon gone cannibal.

(2) My nineties nostalgia, on the other hand: encyclopedic.

1 comment:

Douglas Wolk said...

See also: and ...