Album Review: Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs

If Stella Donnelly’s previous EP was not unlike a stripped-back, acoustic Courtney Barnett record, then her debut album Beware Of The Dogs initially comes across as an electric Lily Allen offering.

For those familiar with 2017’s Thrush Metal, the musical shift demonstrated on album opener Old Man may be a surprising one. The lo-fi stylings have transmogrified into a lush, dreamy soundscape of jangly guitars and laidback percussion, but this leisurely pace conceals barbed street references to patriarchal dinosaurs such as Trump amongst the indignant lyrics. As with Thrush Metal, Donnelly is addressing contemporary issues head-on but the new record is presenting them in the most gorgeous manner.

Mosquito reverts back to type briefly; slender and sweet in equal measure and imbued with Donnelly’s gift for the poetically personal, her vocals shimmer amidst choral harmonies, but the production qualities add a depth and shine to proceedings that was previously absent and this continues on the family-takedown of Season’s Greetings.

Although Donnelly has revamped her lo-fi approach, Allergies is evidence perhaps that she is not quite ready to reject the spirit of the genre entirely; bunged-up snuffles are discernible in-between the verses of this breakup song, contributing to the verisimilitude she creates before Tricks signals a return to a lusher, spikier anatomy, adding a playful attitude to proceedings in the process. Boys Will Be Boys is clearly a different proposition altogether though. It was the EP’s defining moment and it is significant that the Australian felt it pertinent to include it on her album a couple of years later. Despite its familiarity, it still expounds the personality of the entire record. Including the track could have been over-indulgent, but considering the raw themes addressed on the rest of the album, it makes complete sense.

Lunch is another one of those explicitly personal moments as Donnelly provides an account of life on the road accompanied by uncomplicated acoustic tones and simple strings, adding a warmth that contradicts the negative feelings. Bistro and Dieare less successful in this respect, lacking the personality of what came before it. Thankfully, title track Beware Of The Dogs feels much more sincere and oddly reminiscent of those occasions on 90’s Britpop records, when the more frantic moments were tempered by moments of clarity and reflection, and these qualities linger on the more fragile U Owe Me that lyrically surprises and amuses in equal measure.

The cheesy synths and drum machines of Watching Telly don’t quite work, proving to be a bit of an unwanted distraction from the more interesting lyrics before the album closes out on more familiar acoustic territory with Face It.

The acerbic honesty of Thrush Metal has been retained throughout this record, but Donnelly has complimented these qualities with a range of musical tones and warm production traits that provide a wonderful balance to proceedings. At the end of the day, the dips certainly don’t overwhelm the prevailing sense that Beware Of The Dogs is a significant triumph!

Iain Fox

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