Album review: Stella Donnelly

Stella Donnelly - Beware Of The Dogs (Secretly Canadian)

Austrailian indie singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly.

Austrailian indie singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly.

THE SOUND, the look, is deceptive, disarming. The singer is all smiles and kookiness, the songs seemingly frothy, jubilant, catchy, 1980s style indie-pop. It's the sweetness that attracts.

The aftertaste though is bitter, unnerving, and all the more deeply satisfying for that. Here is an album that grapples with sexual abuse ('Old Man' ), rape ('Boys Will Be Boys' ), abortion ('Watching Telly' ), and women's refusal to tolerate misogyny, or just nonsense of any kind anymore ('Season's Greetings' ).

'Boys Will Be Boys', a deeply poignant ballad, featuring a finely judged vocal from Donnelly, pithily sums up many of the album's themes in brief, hard hitting, lines: Rape: "You invaded her magnificence"; toxic masculinity - "Your father told you you were innocent, told you women rape themselves"; and that sense of entitlement some men have - "death to the word No".

Even more powerful is 'Watching Telly', which, over a deliberately repetitive synth riff, builds into a powerful statement on bodily autonomy ("Signs up, telling me that I'm not right, I'm not worthy, of the choice to make my own choices for my body" ); sexism and double standards ("They take dollar signs to our bodies and tell us not to show our skin. If it's good enough for the boys it's good enough for us" ); and religion ("God loves His children, but God loves men, Jesus Christ, she's just trying to get by" ).

Donnelly's compositional strength and sense of melody are exceptional, and surprisingly advanced for a debut album. 'Tricks' sounds like the greatest song Haircut 100 never wrote, but has a more saucy and defiant ("You only like me when I do my tricks for you" ) stance than Nick Heyward would have allowed - again, the sweetness of the delivery, at first obscures, then reveals, the dagger hidden within the lyrics.

A very strong opening statement from the Australian, it could well prove to be the best debut album of 2019.

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