“Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me…most of my heroes ain’t appeared on no stamp”. Chuck D, quoted from the inlay of ‘Generation Terrorists’ by The Manic Street Preachers back in 1992. That quote has always resonated with me. My heroes have always been the underdogs, they have never got the rewards or the worldwide acclaim they so rightly deserve. And one such artist happens to be Donnie Vie, the former singer of Chicago power-pop legends Enuff Z’Nuff.
Now Enuff Z’Nuff was a band out of time. Due to their garish, day-glo get up and pretty boy looks they were lumped into the hair metal scene when they blasted out of Chicago in 1989, and they could never shake that tag. But if you ignore the 80’s production and get past the squealing, dive bomb solos of original guitarist Derek Frigo, their early albums still stand the test of time where many others fail. Good songwriting is good songwriting whatever the production, and I can’t help feeling that if Donnie and songwriting partner/bassist Chip Z’Nuff had met in another place, at another time, they could’ve been household names.
You see Donnie & Chip were my generation’s Lennon & McCartney, and I don’t say that lightly, for me their back catalogue speaks for itself. But while they struggled on, releasing quality album after album, alas it was not meant to be. In-band fighting, addiction and being fucked over by record labels is a familiar rock ‘n’ roll story, and Enuff Z’Nuff had it all and threw it all away. Band members came and went, some died (R.I.P. Derek Frigo and drummer Ricky Parent). And while Chip still keeps the Enuff Z’Nuff peace flag flying, Donnie has long since washed his hands and carved out a solo career, vowing never return to his past band.
‘Beautiful Things’ is his first album in 4 years, and follows a period of time the singer has taken to physically and spiritually rebuild. Not helped by recent hospitalisation and the PledgeMusic debacle, the album has been delayed until now.
The influence of The Beatles has always been at the forefront of Donnie’s writing. Catchy, pop-tastic melodies and instant choruses have been a trademark since ‘New Thing’ and ‘Baby Loves You’ were all over MTV. And those influences are all over ‘Beautiful Things’, the man just can’t help himself.
Whether it’s the hazy, lazy title track that opens the album with dreamy, layered vocal harmonies, and Paul Gilbert’s trademark guitar licks, the acoustic-led ‘Breaking Me Down’ with its building, euphoric chorus, or the piano-led love letter to a lost love that closes the album, the ghost of the Fab Four presides over everything he does. There is much to enjoy from the ten tracks on offer and to be honest there is not a bad track on it. Prepare for goosebump moments ahead, there will be plenty.
The introspective ‘I Could Save The World with its ringing chords, haunting vocal harmonies and uplifting feel, was the first taste of this album late last year and promised much. It’s got Jellyfish legend Roger Joseph Manning Jr on it for starters! If there was ever a song to whet people’s appetite, then this was it. “All I wanna do is bring the good shit back” the man sings with such passion I believe his every word, and am with him every step of the way. What a tune.
Expectations were high from the moment I heard this song and Donnie has sure delivered. ‘Beautiful Things’ is an album full of passion, sentiment and good, good feeling. The songwriting is top notch, the production crystal clear and the performance is stellar.
All these songs stand up against the man’s extensive back catalogue. ‘Plain Jane’ is pure EZN fodder. The way the melody builds to yet another Lennon-esque chorus that Liam Gallagher would die to have penned. And I have to mention the uplifting ‘Whatever’. A perfect 3 minute pop song in the tradition of old school rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds like a vintage Beatles classic, the old 50’s inspired Beatles that cut their teeth playing bars in Germany. Everything is perfect about this song, the vocal delivery is spot on, the sentiment of the retrospective lyricism, and the production, it’s so retro I hear it in black and white! An instant classic and a welcome addition to the man’s back catalogue.
Donnie Vie has battled his own demons and come out the other side stronger and better for it. The distinctive, raspy vocals are as good as ever and the art of a catchy chorus has not been lost.
While it’s sad Chip and Donnie may never reunite as Enuff Z’Nuff, life goes on and Donnie has crafted an album that retains everything his former band delivered and more, while still sounding fresh, vibrant and current.
I can safely say ‘Beautiful Things’ is the best album Donnie Vie has released as a solo singer and probably the strongest set of songs since the release of Enuff Z’Nuff’s classic ‘Strength’ back in 1991. For me, this is one of the essential releases of the year.
Buy Beautiful Things Here
Author: Ben Hughes