There's a new trend in CD publication that may be a reaction to the buying public's increasing hesitancy to spend nearly twenty dollars for discs that contain nothing but music. The trend is to reduce MSRP and add special features. The most common form of ancillary content found on many of today's new releases is simple QuickTime video and/or Shockwave presentations that are written right on the CD itself. But a new form of extra is gaining popularity: the bonus DVD.
The Donnas 'Spend the Night' retails for well under twenty dollars and early pressings of the disc include a bonus DVD (note: the CD itself also contains a video in QuickTime format). The digital music wars that have been ripping the industry apart for the last few years have tarnished the names of many big labels to such an extent that they need to do something to restore confidence in their product. 'Spend the Night', with its bonus content and low price, represents part of a fantastic trend that may actually serve to rehabilitate the image of the record industry in the eyes of many consumers.
'Spend the Night' is the fifth release from the Bay Area's hard rocking girl group The Donnas. This four-piece power combo started out (at the tender age of thirteen) as a fairly standard Ramones influenced punk band but quickly transformed into something more closely resembling 70s and 80s metal acts including Judas Priest, Kiss and Motley Crue (all of whom they've covered on various releases). With 'Spend the Night' The Donnas have taken another step towards a mature, sophisticated sound that's sure to solidify their status as a contemporary rock and roll classic.
This release picks up right where 2001's 'Turn 21' left off. The opening song 'It's on the Rocks' kicks in with a growling Donna R (Allison Robertson) signature riff that immediately slides into chugging rhythm punctuated by Donna C's (Torry Castellano) solid drum beat and Donna F's (Maya Ford) pounding bass. On top of it all is Donna A's (Brett Anderson) aggressive vocal line, sounding rough, rich and melodic. It's clear form the opening moments that the band is more confident and self assured than ever.
Both musically and lyrically this is the tightest Donnas recording yet. From the satisfyingly irreverent 'Dirty Denim' through the obligatory cheeba-inspired 'You Want to Get Me High' and the hilarious 'Take Me to the Back Seat' there isn't a bad cut on the disc. The songs are laced with memorable hooks, deliciously swaggering lyrics and a raw but detailed mix that celebrates lo-fi and FM rock ethics simultaneously and with ease.
'Spend the Night' bills itself as a 'limited edition with bonus DVD' but I suspect that the edition is limited only by the number of potential paying customers that Atlantic Records thinks will show up at registers. 'Spend the Night' comes in a standard two-disc jewl case. Both the CD and DVD sport black silkscreen designs that are very similar so you may need to look closely to see which is which.
The bonus DVD features a fully animated menu that shows clips from each of the three included video segments. The first item is a short interview conducted by, of all people, TV actor Andy Dick. This footage is presented in full screen, non-anamorphic video. The image quality is fairly good with only minimal compression artifacts, sufficient color saturation and average contrast. Dick asks the band some softball questions and acts like a typical camera hogging freak, so the interview isn't especially revealing. It does contain a few interesting tidbits on the girl's background though and is worth watching at least once.
Next up is a compilation of home movies that the band shot while in the studio while recording 'Spend the Night'. The footage runs for roughly twenty minutes. This segment is also full-screen, non-anamorphic. It's taken from what appears to be an analogue source so the images are predictably soft and lacking in detail. We get to see the girls horsing around in the studio, working out backup vocals, recording various tracks, acting silly and having a blast. It's fun to watch (especially for people like me who have spent countless hours in a recording studio tracking songs) but, like the Andy Dick interview, not terribly revealing. The best part of the program is some show footage of the band playing a single song live at the end.
Finally there's an animated video for 'Do You Wanna Hit It'. This is an interesting choice since the song is from last year's Donnas album, not 'Spend the Night'. The video is in widescreen but is also non-anamorphic. I like the style of the animation (it reminds me of Kevin Smith's Clerks cartoons) and enjoyed watching it. As with the other segments the transfer is servicable, not spectacular.
A note on the audio: Each of the three video programs comes with a rather pedestrian stereo soundtrack. The audio is fine but could have really benefited from a 5.1 mix. Given the fact that anamorphic video and multi-channel audio is DVD's forte this seems like a missed opportunity to me.
If you're a Donnas fan this CD/DVD combo will be a nice addition to both your music and video library. For those of you who haven't yet heard The Donnas this is a fine place to start exploring their catalogue. I give 'Spend the Night' a rating of Highly Recommended.