DOLLS – Eggshells EP

When a release promotes itself as “power pop”, you’d probably hope for something in the time honoured power pop tradition – maybe the early MTV sounds of Shoes, or something with the killer choruses of Fountains of Wayne. Something with a strong sense of melody; almost certainly something with a core that centres around the golden age of pop/rock from the 70s and 80s. What the term “power pop” doesn’t suggest is any of the thin, trebly indie sounds or bursts of garage rock noise that make up the bulk of Dolls’ 2020 EP ‘Eggshells’.

Things don’t start particularly well when ‘Bubble Bath’ kicks off with a high pitched, fake sounding childlike voice singing almost unaccompanied. Vocalist Jade obviously has designs on being quirky but, more often than not, during the track’s quieter moments, she just sounds like she’s trying too hard. The minimalist music doesn’t help her cause, sounding – at least at first – like something hacked out on a ukulele before being transposed to guitar. As the track builds, mercifully, things improve…and substantially so by the time Jade and Bel find themselves waist deep in an intensive garage rock thrash about. When attacking their instruments at full pelt, Dolls come much closer to sounding like Red Aunts and other Sympathy For The Record Industry staples – something that’s also reinforced by a broadly feminist stance. Beyond that incredibly annoying first verse, it isn’t that bad, but given the amount of energy eventually applied, it really deserves to be ten times better than it actually is. Not quite as interesting, ‘Secret Ugly Baby’ goes head first into the LOUDquietLOUD technique (popularised by Pixies and Nirvana; brazenly ripped off by countless others). Despite tapping into a once popular sound and tweaking it slightly to suit Dolls’ own take on fuzzy indie, it rarely breaks beyond the predictable. By teasing with a verse that offers another riff that sounds like a small step above a twee annoyance, it isn’t instantly likeable and when coupling that with a chorus that’s a blatant recycling of Veruca Salt (albeit during their less interesting period when Nina Gordon was notably absent), it presents listeners with little more than a clichéd homage.

‘Hot Bodies’ switches the mood by focusing on a sultry 50s twang, creating a sound that’s both sexual and sinister. By the time the chorus rolls around and fuzzy guitars take the lead, this isn’t shy in its desire to recreate old works by Hole and Babes In Toyland. Thankfully, due to a far more melodic verse and a great guitar sound, there’s so much more musical interest here compared to Dolls’ usual fare; a deeper and more assured vocal also goes a long way to making this the EP’s only real saving grace. Rounding out this four tracker, the title cut at first sounds like a lazy rehash of bits of both ‘Bubble Bath’ and ‘Secret Ugly Baby’, presenting disjointed chords over a drum sound that has all the power of a Tupperware tub being thudded. However, after a slow start and with some drastically increased volume, this number eventually finds its feet and works fairly well. There’s a return for the 50s twang, a reasonable stab at a vocal melody/harmony and an enjoyable voyage into semi-melodic garage rock. With one of the EP’s best vocals and an arrangement that manages to inject melody where necessary, it’s the sort of track that really should have been used as opening bait. Disappointment may well have set in soon after, but surely its better to reel in your audience straight away rather than hiding one of the better tracks at the end of a release? In the age of streaming, there are so many listeners who wouldn’t be able to stick out the full fourteen minutes it takes to play this EP from start to finish…

With a lot of material that focuses too much on workmanlike garage rockers sounding like demos by a third rate 90s band, it’s really hard to see why this release should warrant any real excitement. It’s even harder to work out why the power pop crowd should be singled out as their target demographic. Despite a couple of woeful musical choices, this EP does just about manage to hold the attention for a couple of listens, but – and it’s a massive but – in a world where we now have thousands of new tunes waiting to be discovered at the push of a button, it needs to offer listeners more than that. Sadly, Dolls really aren’t much to get excited about. Those looking for exciting 90s influenced sounds would be far better off picking up records by Muncie Girls, Lande Hekt and Fightmilk instead.

September 2020