PRIMA DONNA – Atomic Love / He’s A Rebel

Although their origins stretch back much further, LA power poppers/garage rockers Prima Donna considered their self-titled full length release from 2018 to be a new start; the kind of record that really introduced the world to a band at their best. …And indeed, the bulk of its material showcased a more confident band; an act fully at ease with a commercial sound and a huge chorus or six. Over the next couple of years, some great singles emerged, with Prima Donna’s blend of timeless pop cool and garage rock flair eventually peaking on an unexpected cover of Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer’ driven by a massive fuzz bass.

To use an old cliché, the two songs on the ‘Atomic Love’ 7” blow most Prima Donna recordings out of the water. The duo of melodic cuts arguably represent the most perfectly retro power pop since The Paley Brothers and PezBand hit their peak in the late 70s. The self-penned title track, in particular, gives fans every reason to carry on loving Prima Donna when a strong intro with pounding drums and chopping pop punk-ish riffs quickly gives way to a slide guitar part leading into a very 60s sounding verse. In contrast to the semi-agressive intro, the bulk of the song works some great bubblegum inflected sounds where strident rhythms and handclaps evoke old Sonny Bono-penned jukebox 7”s, and a rock ‘n’ roll piano line lurking beneath accentuates a cool, retro mood. A harmony fuelled chorus wastes no time in driving a great, melodic hook into peoples’ ears when frontman Kevin Preston appears to steer his band further into the world of old Phil Spector tunes with some cool harmonies, while lyrically, the comic book/b-movie stance taps into the band’s trashier aesthetic with ease. The sharper guitar sounds from the intro make a welcome return to fill out a lead guitar break where the band’s garage rock credentials take more of a driving seat, but it isn’t too long before that fab chorus hook makes another bid for earworm of the year. The production is equally smooth: everything here is presented with a brilliant clarity, and although this might be rather more pop than power – especially in relation to some of the band’s Wicked Cool Records contemporaries – it’ll represent an unmissable three minutes for most power pop fans.

On the flip, the band covers tune that’ll be familiar to everyone, when they replay The Crystals’ hit ‘He’s A Rebel’ as if it were recorded by The Foxboro Hot Tubs in an especially poppy mood. Nothing major has been done to change the original arrangement, but the guitars have been pushed to the fore to give the piece a more contemporary sound. Now taking on the manrle of a late 70s power pop side, there’s a warmth that the 60s couldn’t provide, but the melodies hold firm. It’s also a recording that showcases both Preston’s vocal range and Aaron Minton’s multi-instrumental skills. Aaron not only contributes another rattlingly retro piano part (albeit low in the mix), he also brings the piece further to life with some fine sax work, first via a melodic solo, but more importantly through some incredibly busy playing during a speed driven coda. Overall, this is a good example of how great songs don’t necessarily need to be drastically reinvented to have merit as cover versions. Between Prima Donna’s obvious love for the source material and the way it now sounds like a cut from power pop’s glory years (1977-80), that’s enough to make it fly. The band’s decision not to switch genders also makes it feel even more relevant to the time of recording.

Although by the time these tracks emerged, the world was more than ready for a new Prima Donna LP for some time, any new material is welcome, and this pair of recordings certainly rank among the band’s very best. ‘Atomic Love’, in particular, is so catchy and sharp, the band’s rise through the power pop ranks should be more than guaranteed. Grab a download of this release at the earliest opportunity – you won’t regret it.

May 2021