Few bands can authentically pull off the level of sassy, trash-talking lyrics of the Donnas. Comprised of vocalist Brett Anderson, guitarist Allison Robertson, bassist Maya Ford, and drummer Torry Castellano (all of whom formerly went by unifying monikers Donna A, Donna R, etc.), the Donnas found a big cult following in the punk world with the release of their first four albums. While the band built further momentum with appearances in teen movies like Jawbreaker and Drive Me Crazy, they didn’t break into the mainstream until they signed with Atlantic Records and recorded their fifth studio album, Spend the Night. Spend the Night was a shift for the group from straight punk, moving towards a punk/classic rock/metal hybrid with a fuller sound.
Spend the Night tells the story of what sounds like the same party from multiple points of view. While the situations at hand may vary, the voices are unified in their general attitude, most of which exists on a spectrum that runs from amusement to annoyance. The Donnas want to party on their terms, and if you’re not here for it, you’re not relevant. The feelings expressed are blunt, but never escalate towards rage, angst, or devastation. You don’t have to look deep into the lyrics to find out what the ladies are saying; tracks on this album consist of names like “I Don’t Care (So There),” “You Wanna Get Me High,” and “Take Me to the Backseat.”
Lead singles don’t always tell the full story of an album, but “Take It Off” encapsulates Spend the Night pretty well. The entire song is an aggressive come-on to an unnamed guy that really demonstrates the band’s no bullshit attitude. There’s no coy head tilting, no innuendo to be found: “Come on and take it off (take it off)/You gotta shake it off baby for me/Come on and break it off (break it off)/Cause I get what I want and I like what I see,” Anderson sings during the chorus. “Take It Off” is one of the Donnas’ catchiest singles as well as their most successful to date with its peak at #19 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.
The rest of the party rages on with the Donnas telling other guys to shove off with the same level of honesty as “Take It Off.” The guy in “Dirty Denim” tries way too hard, the popular guy in “You Wanna Get Me High” trashes their friends and expects for it not to matter, and the guy in “Too Bad About Your Girl” is stuck with another girl. The no bullshit attitude doesn’t only extend to potential hookups.; the band is without a care for what other people think in the likes of “Who Invited You” and album closer “5 O’Clock in the Morning,” where other party attendees are told, “If you can’t keep up/Then you better shut up/Cause tonight we’re gonna stay up/Til 5 o’clock in the morning.”
The one song that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of Spend the Night is “Please Don’t Tease,” a track in which the Donnas beg someone they like not to tease them. The repetitive lyrics and overall sound of the track don’t fit in well with the rest of the album. This outlier becomes especially noticeable when listening to the track following, “Take Me to the Backseat,” which has heavier instrumentation and similar themes without the slight touch of desperation that hinders “Please Don’t Tease.”
While The Donnas are very clearly influenced by the likes of musicians like Joan Jett and the Ramones, they certainly stand on their own in the more recent hard rock space. With Spend the Night, The Donnas brought a fresh attitude to the music scene, leveraging a love of partying and a direct disposition to challenge gender roles in music. Women could be just as forthright and confident as men in this world, and they had the lyrics and attitude to back it up.