Review Summary: Competent, ballsy, yet not outstanding pop-punk as Donots bite the bullet and ‘grow up’ with wildly varying results.
Decent pop-punk has become something of an oxymoron these days, largely because the genre has been hijacked by a slew of pop-rock boybands whose names need not be mentioned. Thankfully, there have always been bands like Donots plugging away behind the scenes, products of a different time; influenced by Green Day, NOFX and other half-decent outfits, rather than the Fall Out Boy-mimicking dirge that comes whimpering out of your radio in 2009.
For all you ca-razy kids out there looking for a quick Donots anthem fix, like ‘Saccharine Smile’ or ‘Whatever Happened to the 80s?’, this may not be the best choice of album. The music is not as immediately gratifying as previously, more angular, introverted, even melancholic in places. Yes, the album does have its sweet moments, but overall we see Donots somewhat painfully and ironically conforming to the punk-rock rulebook and attempting to put out a ‘mature’ album.
The result isn’t half bad. Intro ‘There’s a Tunnel at the End of the Light’ with its German-accented introspective musings set to a fairly upbeat guitar track is odd to say the least, but there are without question some standout songs. ‘This Is Not a Drill’ is aggressive, with call-and-answer gang vocals and a rather pleasant vitality to it, while ‘New Hope for the Dead’ sounds like My Chemical Romance would if they weren’t ***. Closer ‘Somewhere, Someday’ is inexplicably country-flavoured. Get past the bizarre oriental banjo intro and you have a solid. It may sound an awful lot like a rehash of Amy McDonald’s ‘This Is The Life’, but this is forgivable; partly because Donots fans are likely to be unacquainted with the irritating siren with retarded pronunciation, and partly because this is the only ‘grown-up’ track here that actually works.
Much-vaunted single ‘Stop The Clocks’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; the infinite paradox of commercial music dictates that if a punk rock song receives large amounts of airplay, it’s the worst one on the album. Frontman Ingo Donot recently stated in an interview that ‘the punk or hardcore guy could relate to that [song] as much as a housewife or pop guy.’ This is wishful thinking, and the only way I can see it gaining any credence is if the hardcore guy revealed himself to have a secret penchant for the Stereophonics. It’s followed by the frankly awful mid-tempo plodder ‘The Right Kind of Wrong’, all harmonies, smothering guitars and subdued melody. It trips over its own attempts to be an epic ballad, then faceplants when the key change kicks in. ‘Headphones’ just plain sucks; another tedious display of mediocrity, punctuated by a ridiculous monologue in which Ingo appears to put on a British accent and talks about nothing much at all.
Lyrically, the album crashes; attempts at deep lyrics are superficial and ill-thought out, coming across as a product rather than anything expressive. Granted, it’s a big achievement to write a full album in a second language, but the older songs never suffered from this kind of lexical anaemia. Apart from some hidden gems, most of which are rough diamonds at best, Coma Chameleon is lacking in energy and identity. It doesn’t feel sincere or cohesive despite being musically astute. A fun record, worth a listen, but the muscular anthemic chutzpah of old seems to have evaporated.