The DonnasThe Donnas
Gold Medal
(Atlantic)
   


All-girl rockers the Donnas broke through to public acclaim a couple of years ago with Spend the Night. That disc found the quartet spinning track after track of teasing three-chord punk rock, from the faux headshakes of a coquette trying to steal a man in "Too Bad About Your Girl" to the no-explanation-necessary "Take Me to the Backseat."

The Donnas have cleaned up their act on Gold Medal. While their bar-rock harmonies remain enticing, gone are the over-the-top double entendres, and songs about what happens after last call.

Unfortunately, gone to some extent, too, are the tight riffs that made those past songs not only risque, but memorable musically. In fact, the one racy track — "It's So Hard" — suffers from being musically, well, soft.

"Gold Medal" is a good rock album taken on its own; but as a follow-up to "Spend the Night," it's a bit of a letdown. “I Don't Want To Know” leads things off with a solid riff, but the long ‘70s-esque guitar and bass breaks in “Friends Like Mine” sound like the girls have been listening to one too many BTO records over the past couple years.

There are a lot of '70s rock references in Gold Medal, from cowbell clanks to lazy chugging guitar riffs. Which is not all bad — when the Donnas combine that classic rock feel with their penchant for punky pop rock. Unfortunately, those moments are fewer on Gold Medal than on Spend the Night or even their earlier, independent release, Get Skintight.

Gold Medal is worth the cover price for "I Don't Want to Know," "Fall Behind Me" and its title track, the country-esque, walking bass anthem "The Gold Medal." But, hopefully, the girls will rediscover their punkier, edgier side.

Northern StateNorthern State
All City
(Atlantic)
   ½


If the Spice Girls had attempted to make a Beastie Boys album, it might have sounded a little like Northern State.

My guess is, all three of those bands would be irritated to read that comparison, but whoops, there it is.

Seriously, Northern State makes some fun, sassy hip hop — this is generation Y party music plain and simple, nothing too deep — "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya/you're not original like furniture from Ikea" they rap goofily in one track.

With that in mind, the New York all-girl trio's second CD All City is really a gem, opening with a military-march style chant "Ignite" (later sampled again on "Think Twice"), a typical rap self-homage about how great Northern State is — "we're Northern State now we won't stop/for all the girls who love hip hop."

Better however is the pounding beat, crunch-riff guitars and synthesizer bass of the next song, “Girl For All Seasons” where the girls rail against the fashion magazine culture of women striving to twease and squeeze themselves perfectly pretty. Instead they promise that they'll be “real,” though not “perfect” for their men:

“I'll be your girl for all seasons
I'll be your girl for all reasons
fulfillin' all your needs and
I'll be your girl for all pleasin'.”

Their raps all have the same barking, “na-na-na” quality that The Beastie Boys have mined, and they frequently talk call each other by name in their songs – in “Time To Rhyme” they essentially put themselves on the rap catwalk, giving each of the girls a verse to rap about themselves while chanting in between “time to rhyme and then we do it again…so which of these girls you wanna hear from?”

One of the best tracks, “Last Night” details a night on the town in New York City, where one of the girls makes out in the DJ booth while wondering what other girls the guy has had on his arm, and the rest are “shaking out on the floor” before visiting the bar and then heading out to search for more cash: “This is New York City so I'm at the ATM again, again, again.”

The disc ends with “Summer Never Ends,” an uncharacteristically sugary collaboration with Har Mar Superstar where the girls sing about the fun they've had all summer long with the boys of Har Mar Superstar (“hit the scene with the ladies and they drank us to the floor” the guys offer).

This is an album about clubbing, dating and 20something fun; Hesta Prynn, Sprout and Spero sound like their just having a blast making every track. And that makes this an infectious experience for the listener.