What worked so brilliantly and what was, incidentally, often overlooked about CSS’s debut, 2006’s Cansei de Ser Sexy, was that the band infused their ingratiating pastiche of both U.S. hipster scenes and more global MySpace-friend culture with a genuine sense of joy that’s typically absent in modern indie rock. Frontwoman LoveFoxxx could get away with name-checking both Paris Hilton and Death from Above 1979, demanding that someone lick her art-tit, and insisting that music is, in fact, her personal beach house because her and her cohorts’ rawness—the broken English, the not-quite tuned guitars, the vocal tracks that seemed to run a fraction of a second ahead of the beat—were born out of necessity rather than a stylish ironic remove. The result was a record that lacked the defensive posturing or strident attention-whoring of so many other acts (Girl Talk is perhaps the most salient example) and, therefore, came across as genuine and, at times, soulful in its insistence on the joys to be found in music and art.
CSS’s sophomore effort, Donkey, is one of the year’s biggest disappointments, then, because it jettisons most of what made the band interesting (that outsider perspective on global pop culture) in favor of a far more simpleminded, one-note focus on partying. It’s a move that ultimately proves the band’s detractors, who have become increasingly more vocal after an iPod Touch commercial launched “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” onto the Billboard Hot 100, correct in their claims that CSS’s songs lack any substantive content. There’s literally nothing to add to “Let’s Reggae All Night” that isn’t already right there in the title, while “Jager Yoga” extols the virtues of daytime drinking. The refrain of “Left Behind” illustrates how literal and excessively dumbed down the songs have become, hinging on the couplet “Gonna have some fun there and drink till I pass out/Gonna jump up on the tables and dance my ass off till I die.” The line comes off as an empty threat because the supposed dance-pop hooks on tracks like the flat, inexplicably disco-inspired “Let’s Reggae All Night” and “Move” rarely connect.
Even when Mark Stent leaves some of the band’s ragged charm in the mix, as on lead single “Rat Is Dead (Rage)” and the failed bit of erotic surrealism of “I Fly,” there’s nothing particularly distinctive about the album’s sound. More accomplished bands than CSS have taken obvious cues from the Pixies to far better effect, and the slick studio polish that has been lacquered on the remaining tracks loses both the sloppiness and the swagger that gave CSS character as a band. Neither smart nor subversive, Donkey may very well break CSS to a wider audience, but its artlessness actively undermines the promise shown on their debut.