Monday, October 12th, 2009

Donkeyboy – Ambitions

Given how huge this is in Norway, we’ve got on it a bit late…


Hillary Brown: There’s even more 1980s nostalgia than usual in the jukebox at the moment, but this song is up there with the best, with a strong emphasis on melody and enough of a beat to make it rise above the ballads, plus the vocals aren’t annoying, the lyrics aren’t dumb, and it’s got some smart things going on musically.

Martin Skidmore: The vocal is nastily shrill on the high notes, which put me off this immediately. I had assumed that its massive Norwegian success (#1 for 12 weeks) suggested a memorable pop song at the very least, but it plods steadily along as if they forgot to write a chorus, then stops. I am mystified.

Edward Okulicz: Number 1 for 8000 years in their native Norway, and it’s not hard to hear why. This is a gorgeous 80s pastiche that, if it weren’t so sincere, would seem like a parody — starry trills of keyboard here, a Madonna-esque bassline there. This would be merely “good” but is elevated to “classic” by guest vocalist and Norwegian Idol alum Linnea Dale who is a fantastically warm and emotive performer. A heart-tugger more than a hip-shaker, but a beautiful melody that chugs away like a female-fronted Van She and drips with both cool retro charm and bittersweetness. Stunning.

Jessica Popper: Donkeyboy have been compared to pop legends such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and fellow Norwegians A-Ha, and while I don’t think they’ll be quite that successful, it would be nice to see a Norwegian act making waves outside of their home country as it’s a strangely rare occurence. I recently heard “Ambitions” being played on repeat in a record label office, so fingers crossed it’ll be a hit here soon too!

Martin Kavka: Why has no one invented electro yacht rock before now? Or, if someone has, why has no one done it so well before now?

Matt Cibula: So many bands got away with sounding all crummy and boring like this when I was in high school and college, but I never got to take any revenge…until now. From the depths of hell, I strike at thee!

Michaelangelo Matos: The only way I can figure my semi-attraction to this lean froth is that I’m from Minnesota, where Norwegians run amok. I’m not sure I could make a case for the song on its merits: it’s painless, I can listen numerous times, and when it’s over it barely registers, just like the ’70s AM-radio pop it runs through a strainer.

Jonathan Bradley: Phased, palm-mute guitar; a floating falsetto; an aching wistful chorus: Donkeyboy knows how to play the new-wave throwback game. “Ambitions” is better than most retro genre excursions because it sounds exactly as if it were seeping out of a distant radio replaying the hits of yesteryear in the mid-afternoon. That’s apt, I guess, for a tune about dashed hopes. Once upon a time these guys had the entire world before them, and now they live on only as nostalgia. Except that time is actually now, so their premature demise is only a prediction. Like the chorus says, “If somebody’s going to make it, that somebody ought to be you,” but I think we all know these guys aren’t actually going to make it. Not anywhere that doesn’t have territory inside the Arctic circle, anyway.

Ian Mathers: As the Black Hole-esque video makes clear, when she sings “and if somebody’s going to make it/Then this somebody oughta be you”, it’s not a graceful step back to allow someone else to flourish; it’s a numbed acceptance of the way your own drive to do much of anything has atrophied. “Ambitions” is a melodic, 80’s-spangled pop tune about feeling so worthless and unable to accomplish things that you’ll nominate someone else instead. Or worse, about a form of neurotic perfectionism: She keeps telling herself in the mirror that her ambitions are already gone, but the tone of the song makes me wonder if she’s not protesting too much from a fear of failure. I’d imagine I’m not the only mid-to-late-20s listener for whom “Ambitions” hits a bit too close to home either way.

Alex Ostroff: Linnea Dale spends the duration of Ambition pulling a Blair Waldorf — staring in the mirror and demanding that the world bend to her will. Bubbling below the surface are ambivalence, resentment and disappointment. All of these will soon vanish beneath the veneer of a perfect smile, but for a moment are visible through a crack in her mask.

10 Responses to “Donkeyboy – Ambitions”

  1. Ha, on one listen I thought this sounded like Maroon 5, or some so-what Brit-pop band maybe; would’ve given it a 5, if that. Figured the person singing was a guy with a high thin voice, and didn’t note any “’80s” or “yacht-rock” at all, though maybe I just need to listen closer next time*. What yacht-rock and ’80s do people think it sounds like, exactly? (Beyond Michael Jackson and Madonna, which I’m really not buying, sorry.) (Also, btw, pretty sure Jigsaw and/or John Paul Young or somebody invented electro yacht-rock 30 years ago.)

    * Relistening now, and trying to concentrate on its alleged “80s-ness,” I’m thinking maybe you could compare it to Til Tuesday or T’Pau? Except that their big hits were a lot catchier than this one is. A 6, at very very best.

  2. The primary musical similarity, to my ears, is to other retro-70s bands that got tagged as parts of a yacht rock revival two years ago, especially Tigercity. (“Other Girls” + synths = “Ambitions”.) And the vocals sound like they’re being sung by the lovechild of David Gates and Stephen Bishop.

  3. Hmmm, I never heard of that particular yacht-rock revival (and have to admit that I’m skeptical that indie bands could pull it off, since I can’t think of that many indie bands that have ever done retro ’70s convincingly — maybe Urge Overkill for a song or two, I dunno.) But I wrote about other recent yacht rock revivals here (and Maroon 5, interestingly enough, get a mention, though Nashville does it way better):

    Since I wrote that, the r&b balladeer Avant had a small hit with his cover of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” though. So it’s possible there are other places I should have been looking.

  4. Specifically, this reminds me of oh say Cutting Crew, Mr. Mister, stuff like that. I hear the Cars in the beat but that’s not as oppressive to me. It also might be ‘Til Tuesday, except without the lyrical witchery of Aimee Mann.

  5. [i]reminds me of oh say Cutting Crew, Mr. Mister[/i]

    Okay, that ’80s. (I keep forgetting how much that decade sucked sometimes. But you do have a point, Matt.)

  6. i hope that you are aware of “yacht rock,” the lamentably late online series:

  7. This also reminds me of the Motels but it is not as good as the Motels so there. Furthermore, the gross pointless Charles Burns-biting video makes the song even worse and I’m pretty sure that’s the antithesis of what a video is supposed to do.

  8. There’s a video of Laurie reading a poem she wrote about the responses she’s gotten over the last decade for Speak. ,

  9. this holds up!

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