It’s been a while since balding/mustachioed sex symbol Donny Benét seduced the nation with his kitschy-but-alluring brand of ‘80s Italo Disco Funk on the highly acclaimed (and sexy) albums Don’t Hold Back and Electric Love. But prepare to let out a sensual sigh of relief, because Benét is back and ready to gently caress your earlobes with his new album Weekend at Donny’s, out via Rice is Nice.
The analog synthesizers, electronic drum machines, saxophone, and electric bass coupled with Donny’s raw sexual charisma are omnipresent – only this time Benét has taken more of a vocal backseat; instead gathering an array of other talented local musos to the legendary Donny Land Studios (his dad’s garage) to co-write and collaborate on the tracks. Musicians include fellow dreamlanders Jack Ladder and Kirin J Callinan, Elana Stone, Geoffrey O’Connor, Isabella Manfredi (The Preatures) and SPOD. The result is an emotional roller coaster-ride of an album that paints ‘scenes of love, despair, hope, risk, chivalry, incarceration, marital aids, admiration, love triangles, European fashion and libraries’ — apparently.
Like most of Benét’s music, Weekend at Donny’s tiptoes the line between cringe-worthy and fantastic, even despite its diverse and contemporary range of voices. Benét’s vocals are featured on ‘Gentlemen’s Choice’ and ‘Fantasies’, two saucy tracks filled with heavy breathing, funk bass and a sprawling synth solo. It’s hard to take Benét seriously when he whispers random nouns like ‘Louis Vuitton’ and ‘Italian shoes / soft leather goods’, ‘jazz music / modern art’, which gives both tracks a very Flight of the Concords feel. That said, the remaining eight collaborative tracks are obviously quite different in sound and have a far more mature feel.
The low baritones of Jack Ladder, Kirin J Callinan, Geoffrey O’Connor and SPOD coupled with the soulful and tonally beautiful voices of Elana Stone and Isabella Manfredi make for a noticeably dark, tormented sound. For example, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, which features vocals from O’Connor, couples a melancholy guitar riff with a funky electronic drumbeat and traumatic lyrics such as ‘You gave her that beautiful dog / It died alone on my knee’, and ‘You taught her to drive / She gave you a license to cry’. Another disheartening moment is in ‘Cut You Out’; an upbeat song featuring Stone telling a guy, ‘You make me want to terminate myself’. In a way this couldn’t be more 80s: highly danceable and energetic music that speaks pretty frankly about loneliness, isolation and emotional pain.
However, the album’s lead single ‘The Edge’ is a seductive and downright pornographic few minutes. In what we can assume is a musical homage to the sexual practice know as ‘edging’ (Google it), Callinan takes the listener on a erogenous ride. ‘There’s a place,’ he breathes, ‘known as ‘the edge / … It’s a place full of complication’, ‘We climb to the highest peak / It’s got to be out when we just want it in’. Yep, that’s edging. The track really climaxes at the end as Callinan, well, climaxes. It’s certainly the most memorable song on the album, most notably for the steady increase in pace and suspense – and of course Callinan’s impassioned moaning.
Weekend at Donny’s is drenched in stylistic anachronism and satire; and yet, it is also an entertaining and varied album featuring some of Australia’s strongest voices and musicians. The collaboration album feels like a solid response to the skeptics who guessed that Benét’s sound would and should get old quickly, or maybe even a sign that Benét himself thinks the same thing. Nevertheless, Weekend at Donny’s does a great job of showcasing the intricacies and skill within his music, a feature that is often stifled by the spectacle that is Donny Benét.