The Donnas have grown up. The Donnas rock. The Donnas are God. Well, maybe not the latter (a strictly Beatles entitlement), but you get the idea. And they’ve already lasted longer than most of the hairspray bands they love so much did in the ’80s. In 1993 they got together as Ragady Anne, and they proved they could tear up talent shows in junior high and community centers in high school before renaming themselves and putting out their first LP, Steal Your Lunch Money, as the Electrocutes in 1996. They’ve even done the Hollywood scene (Detroit Rock City, She’s All That, Jawbreaker). Now Maya (Donna F), Torry (Donna C), Brett (Donna A), and Allison (Donna R) have little to prove until they feel like it. They’re legal for intoxication, legal for getting into clubs, always legal to rock. They no longer need to kick other girls in the head; they can have 40 boys in 40 nights.
The Donnas can’t be treated like toys anymore, and they no longer need to chase guys because they’re too busy being chased. When little girls wear hot pants, no one will dance with them; when the Donnas don theirs, everyone wants to. Sometimes they like to nibble; sometimes they like to bite as much as Nikki and the Corvettes: three late-’70s-early-’80s Detroit rockers who liked putting on a show for their tight-jeaned “boys, boys, boys” and whose album and two singles have just been compiled into an awesome CD by Bomp! Records. The Corvettes had the same kick-your-ass dark-lipstick pouts as the Donnas; the same hot neon skintight pants; the same petite, punk-rock sexiness. On Get Skintight two years ago, the Donnas even looked to hook-it-up-baby like the Corvettes used to shake-it-up-baby. Coincidence? But where in 1981 Nikki shouted a song called “Criminal Element” about an “animal boy” who made her scream and burn, on Turn 21 the Donnas are the criminal element: Donna A goes for a spin and parties after getting pulled over in “Police Blitz,” because she’s got nothing better to do after roaring “Don’t Get Me Busted.”
Donna A’s vocals, throatier and raspier than ever, are sounding more and more like a teenage Joan Jett’s. But the Donnas aren’t trying to be the Runaways; they’re not as anti-boys, and they’re more fun. Donna C echoes ’80s metal—Twisted Sister, “I Wanna Rock”—like the cool drummer chick she is. Donna R thrusts her Gibson hard, fast, and rough, putting most male guitarists to shame. Donna F starts the new album off with “Are You Gonna Move It for Me,” headbanging her bass at guys the Donnas don’t have time for anymore—guys who pour beer all over themselves and give them bad reviews of their shows. They’re ready for men now.
They know how love works, too. Well, maybe. When they’re ditched at the minimart in “Drivin’ Thru My Heart,” heartbreak is not taken lightly. And when they have “Nothing to Do,” they go back to the liquor store. Hey, they are 21! Back home, cereal and root beer floats are necessary to get in the mood for a “Midnight Snack.” (Yoo-Hoo just won’t do. Besides, they’re from Palo Alto, California, not Forest Hills, Queens.) And as the album winds down, “Gimme a Ride” ‘s mean riff gears us up for the maraschino cherry bomb on Turn 21‘s sundae—the cover of Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight.” On their 1998 album, American Teenage Rock n’ Roll Machine, they did Mötley Crüe’s classic “Too Fast for Love.” They’ve also picked up Kiss’s “Strutter” and the Sweet’s “Wig Wam Bam,” and even a killer version of “Keep on Loving You” by REO Speedwagon for the recent teen flick Drive Me Crazy, for which they called themselves the Electrocutes again.
A punk-rock attitude and metal licks are all that are necessary for these four chicks to show the world what they want. Turn 21 is way heavier than the bubble-yum power-chord punch-punk they started out with—you know, the kind of three-minute tunes that came so easily when you were rehearsing after school for your first big show. But when they want to, the Donnas can still pull it all out and go Mano. They may sound tough—”C’mon and take off your underwear, you’ve got something for me in your pocket”; “The show is done and you’re still hanging around, you want some fun but I’m on my way out of town”—and they are, but deep down they just love to rock ‘n’ roll. Some things haven’t changed. They still fancy boys in tight trousers, for one thing. And despite hitting adulthood, they’re still what most teenage girls hope to be after they pick up their first guitar or start an all-girl group. A band like the Donnas comes around once every decade. They could’ve given the Runaways a wrangle back in the ’70s or they could’ve toured with the Corvettes in ’81, but there’s only so much those girl-crazy punk-rock boys can handle. They got a late start in the ’90s, but now is their era. The Donnas are rock ‘n’ roll. They can play. And they’re here to stay.
Bomp!, P.O. Box 7712, Burbank, CA 91510;
The Donnas play the Bowery Ballroom on March 10 and 11.