Stella Donnelly’s “Beware of the Dogs” is an unflinching dose of empowerment

stella donnelly review Courtesy of Creative Commons/THE REVIEW
Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly stuns on her debut “Beware of the Dogs.”

BY
Music and Society Editor

Stella Donnelly ferociously attacks with her soothing voice and glittery guitar-tone, giddy with confusing sonic contradiction. The opening track, “Old Man,” off her debut record, “Beware of the Dogs,” viciously tears the rug from beneath the feet of abusers, offering an all-too-timely call to action in the #MeToo era. Donnelly is out for blood, thirsting for retribution.

“Oh, are you scared of me, old man? / Or are you scared of what I’ll do? / You grabbed me with an open hand / The world is grabbin’ back at you,” Donnelly sings.

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter hails from Australia and works independently there, but has had a transnational impact, garnering acclaim in the U.S. Her willingness to engage with challenging and highly controversial social issues in her lyrics has brought her praise and made her stand out from her contemporaries.

The 2017 release of her breakout single, “Boys Will Be Boys,” coincided with sexual-misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and became a sort of anthem addressing the situation. The lyrics call out those who don’t believe and even blame victims of sexual assault, illustrating the toxicity and danger of this practice.

“They said, ‘Boys will be boys’ / Deaf to the word ‘no,’” Donnelly sings in the chorus of the track.

Beyond advocating for the empowerment of women, Donnelly addresses white nationalism in her home country of Australia on the title track of the album. Disagreeing with the course of the country and the treatment of the indigenous people of Australia, she foretells of implosion.

“There’s an architect setting fire to her house / All the plans were there, but they built it inside out / No one will endure what the sign told them they would,” Donnelly sings.

While many of the album’s themes are politically topical, Donnelly also portrays her vulnerable, human side to counterbalance her uncompromising ideas. “Mosquito” is a charming love metaphor, “Allergies” is an emotional breakup ballad and “Lunch” is about homesickness while on tour. These tracks are not just relatable but noticeably honest, willing to show the cracks in Donnelly’s armor.

Stella Donnelly has a knack for songwriting that is unique, catchy and witty. Her inclusion of jabs, cracks and all-around-clever wordplay is as funny as it is disturbing. On “Tricks” for example, she interrupts a rhyme scheme for comedic effect.

“You’re always wanting a kiss and then you want to get…laid/ Get laid, get laid,” she sings.

Paired with her beautiful and evocative guitar-playing, Donnelly cracked the formula for near- perfect indie-pop with this record.

With the stripped-back instrumentals of the album, Donnelly’s voice is given the breathing room it deserves. Soaring, plummeting and rich with vibrato, her singing conveys the emotion contained in her words, reaching the hearts and minds of the listener.

The combination of Donnelly’s words and warm tones give off an authentic quality to her work, imbuing it with a sense of immediacy and importance. These songs are special in the sense that they feel as if they were written for this moment in time. Donnelly’s experiences, insights and observations encapsulate collective struggles, proving that art is an act of resilience and resistance no matter the form.

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