Donna Regina | Transient
Karaoke Kalk (LP/CD/DL)
It is no doubt, bad form to admit it, but despite having released 13 albums over the last three decades, I had never heard of Donna Regina before. Despite the ignorance this betrays, such a position allows me to review ‘Transient’ in isolation, uncomplicated by any past legacy. The first thing that becomes apparent when listening to the album, is how clearly the duo wield a range of influences, emulating their styles (or perhaps, given their longevity, pre-dating them) with unusual precision. The opening track, ‘Royal Blue’, sounds almost exactly like late-stage John Cale, complete with the same lyrical jaunt, the same propensity for brazenly poppy hooks, delivered with a certain awkward lilt. A couple of tracks later, ‘L-art pour l’art’ sounds so much like The Space Lady that in another context I would be genuinely unable to tell the two artists apart.
As you might expect from the aforementioned reference points, Transient sustains itself upon a knowing naivety, invoking an art-pop aesthetic that never allows itself to be too clever, or too well-developed. This is not in itself a criticism – tracks such as ‘Quatres Septembres’ work precisely because they are so lethargically woven, a lazy and playful melody that feels as if it was wrought from a haunted children’s nursery rather than a recording studio. Likewise, the ultra repetitive ‘Blitz’ is entrancing for all its clicking, rhythmic exuberance, its fascination with simplistic, one-bar phrases played upon (what I presume to be) a melodica.
Of note too, is the albums’ impressive multilinguality. There is something unashamedly joyous about listening to such a diversity of language, a feeling strengthened no doubt by the culturally myopic nature of contemporary politics. Shifting seamlessly from English to French, to German to Japanese, I found myself listening to the syllabic phrasing more often than the words meaning, and finding greater value in phonetics than actual comprehension. Tellingly, the English-language tracks – those of my native tongue – were the ones I liked the least. The naivety of the whole affair, whilst charming at first, comes across occasionally as just a bit too unadorned, and some of the lyrics are if not exactly cheesy, then at least somewhat redundant. ‘Monstrous Ball’ in particular suffers from some rather inelegant phrases, and though the childish simplicity of their delivery suggests this is part of the chosen aesthetic, I am not sure it always works as well as it might. Conversely, the more abstract ‘My Many Options’ presents a charming narrative that is far less reliant on recognisable turns of phrase, and the French-Language ‘Quatres Septembres’, whilst fairly inscrutable to my uneducated British mind, seems to revolve around a lovely rhyming couplet concerning buying flowers from a florist.
Transient walks an extremely fine line between proffering simple but nostaligic quirky art-pop, and slightly boring middle-of-the-road songwriting. Some of the production choices are fairly odd – the inclusion of a somewhat caustic high-hat throughout many of there tracks is case in point – and it is perhaps this habit of extending its more lethargic qualities into all aspects of its creation that prevents things from ever getting too annoying. Likewise, the songs are underpinned by a sense of solemnity that is deeply incongruous to the whimsical nature of its dressing, an approach that more than anything elevates the album from potentially mediocrity to occasional brilliance. It doesn’t all work, but I can’t criticise the album from at least trying to toy with its own formula.