With most contemporary bands either trying to do everything or do nothing, the Donkeys are a treat: They just want to write rock songs. Such a simple proposition has become increasingly difficult when most bands either fear sounding derivative (and end up sounding pointless) or worship their heroes to the point of plagiarism. There’s not much to distinguish the Donkeys from great rock bands of yore; the Yardbirds, the Byrds, early Rolling Stones, and a dash of CCR are enough to do the trick. There’s not much flash, but there’s also not a bad song to be found on the album. If Tom Petty can build a rock-hall-worthy career out of songs not much more transcendent than this, why shouldn’t the Donkeys be rewarded for writing great, unassuming rock 'n’ roll?
Contrary to popular opinion, writing simple rock is not a dated or shallow concept. Although there seemingly isn’t much special going on in Living on the Other Side, there’s still a handful of contradictions and nuances. A song about accepting a broken girl in “Dolphin Center” precedes a song about dismissing a hipper one in “Downtown Jenny.” The surreal drum-keyboard combination in “Nice Train” shows that the Donkeys could be more experimental if they so chose. Spearheading it all is the one-two punch of opener “Gone Gone Gone” and “Walk Through a Cloud,” a brooding country-folk combo that ranks with the best of Jeff Tweedy, if a little more morose. Closing things out is the soulful, upbeat "Excelsior Lady," just to make sure the vibes stay strong.
Simple rock isn’t empty rock, and the Donkeys realize this in a way few contemporary bands do. It’s this awareness that makes Living on the Other Side -- on one level a pretty basic rock album that doesn’t surpass any of its predecessors -- seem like something much, much more.
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