I haven’t watched the movie School of Rock in maybe 10 years, but from memory there’s a scene where Jack Black’s character talks about sticking it to the man, as well as singing a song with lyrics “you’re not hard core, unless you live hardcore.” While Stella Donnelly may not be a middle aged man playing a substitute teacher in a mediocre movie, she most definitely is sticking it to the man and living a remotely hardcore existence (let’s use that term loosely). In the past two years, the West Australian artist has gone from releasing an EP that she thought would only be heard by her family, to releasing one of the most timely and influential singles of the past decade, to now releasing her debut album, the brilliant Beware of the Dogs.
It’s been somewhat of a meteoric rise for an artist who puts her wit and affable nature into everything she does. Having showcased most of Beware of the Dogs during her multiple tours throughout 2018 (most notably the national co-headline with Alex the Astronaut and her ‘Finally Made Some Friends’ tour), Stella has put her best foot forward and released an album that lends itself to multiple listens and more than a couple moments where you’ll find yourself singing her chorus hooks while sitting at your work desk typing out mundane replies to customer enquiries.
Where Beware of the Dogs sets itself apart from her Thrush Metal EP is the depth of sound across the songs. Where most of her EP was purely Stella and her guitar, there are multiple moments on the album where the subtleties of a band definitely bring the tracks into another realm. Yes, tracks like “Boys Will Be Boys” are more impactful and should only ever be delivered by Stella and her guitar. But for every heartbreaking moment that occurs on songs like “Boys Will Be Boys”, there are cheeky, tongue-in-cheek moments that remind the listener that Stella is a great songwriter, storyteller and musician. This is noticeable on “Season’s Greetings” and “Tricks”. On both tracks, Stella speaks of semi-serious content (racist family members and males generally being flogs, respectively), whilst taking a more comical view on the content matter. When matched with jangly guitars, her vocals and some choice swears, Stella has managed to put together songs that are both parts relatable and brilliant.
While I’m all for some jovial, upbeat music, Stella really peaks with the more modest and melancholic tracks. “Mosquito”, “Allergies”, “Boys Will Be Boys’, and “Face It” all sum these traits up perfectly. On “Mosquito”, Stella longs for the connection she is missing with a specific person who she can’t be with. It’s sad and teary, and when combined with the sadness of “Allergies” (a song about break ups), are probably the two moments of Beware of the Dogs that will resonate most with the listener.
Stella’s song structure, while not ground-breaking, are effective and fool proof. As for much of the content, it is honest, frank and confronting. At the time of its release, “Boys Will Be Boys” was the timeliest song of 2017 and it’s just as pertinent in 2019. The stories on Beware of the Dogs, while at times whimsical and told with Stella’s dark sense of humour, are mostly the stories and anecdotes of a person who is willing to stand up for their rights. It’s this fearlessness that helps set Stella apart from other artists coming through. This comes to fruition on both “Old Man” and “U Owe Me”, tracks of triumph and willingness to call out misogyny that exists in a fair amount of Australian culture.
Beware of the Dogs is an album that knows its purpose and place. It’s this self-awareness that has allowed Stella to craft 13 tracks that all add something to the release, while not having to rely heavily on one or two moments that define the whole listen. Stella Donnelly, for all her wit and smarts, is a bloody great musician. She’s sticking it to the Man, and living hardcore.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Beware of the Dogs is out now via Secret Canadian. Stella Donnelly is currently on a massive world tour, with shows in the US, Canada and Europe over the next couple of months. For more full tour dates head HERE