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Music  |  Reviews

CSS: Donkey

[Sub Pop]

August 28, 2008  |  5:07pm
CSS: <em>Donkey</em>
CSS' name, an abbreviation of the Brazilian-Portuguese phrase "Cansei de Ser Sexy," is literally translated to "I got tired of being sexy." This moniker seemed harmless and sufficiently ironic when the group's self-titled debut album came out two years ago.

If they were tired of being sexy, it sure didn't show. With the help of airplay gained from the ubiquitous, ad-fave "Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex," CSS emerged as an exuberant, defiant, foulmouthed group of Brazilian youngsters with incredible dance-pop sensibility and a lead singer whose lyrics and persona commanded sexual energy. Sure, they were a little campy, but moreover, they were a lot of fun.

Fast forward two years, subtract one member and add Madonna/M.I.A. mixer Mike Stent, and you've got Donkey. What results is a very listenable and particularly inoffensive collection of catchy but forgettable dance beats with simple hooks. CSS is stripped of the qualities that made it the charmingly objectionable crush of two summers ago. And note, this is not the sexy kind of stripped this time around.

However, there are moments where the spunky, unpredictable CSS of old seeps through, and these refreshing bits alone provide hope that all is not lost for the group's future. Lead vocalist Lovefoxxx's piercing screams on the domestic-abuse-inspired single "Rat Is Dead (Rage)" recall the band's unstoppable energy. And the unyielding but poignantly welcome guitar chaos on the same track revives what was interesting about the band in the first place, but this chaos is rarely rediscovered on Donkey. Similarly, lines like "Desperate living / Hairspray / Baltimore with Tanqueray / Live your life John Waters way" from "Jager Yoga" are a return to form in their astute jabs and observations of contemporary pop culture.

But the rest of the album is dominated by tame attempts at party anthems ("Let's Reggae All Night") and generic Blondie allusions ("Move") that make it seem as though the band was going for a more mature straight-forward pop approach. The group largely disregards its local Brazilian music scene and has professed love for such American acts as Hole, and while CSS' music is not directly comparible to that of Courtney Love and Co., the band seems to be carving a similarly unique niche. It seems odd to say a band whose claim to fame stems largely from an iPod commercial has since then become too homogenized, but on Donkey, all the qualities that set them apart seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

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