Apocalypse references are popular here at the turn of the decade, and veteran singer-songwriter David Dondero kicks off 2020 with a stark, end-times image.
“Take a selfie with a mushroom cloud / as the backdrop while I smile so proud,” Dondero sings on “Easy Chair,” the opening track to his new album, The Filter Bubble Blues. “Set the image effect to 1945 / wonder if we’ll still be alive.”
This despondent but clever wordplay is emblematic of the Duluth, Minnesota, native’s tenth full-length, out on Fluff and Gravy Records. The Filter Bubble Blues is funny and cynical, and the negativity and darkness often brings it all crashing down, although maybe his subjects already accomplished that. The album is a complete buzzkill in a time readymade for a total downer.
“Lock the bastard away when the pendulum swings,” Dondero sings on the next track, leaving little doubt as to the object of his scorn, a figure who has so consumed the last three years of American public life. But Dondero aims his fire at all manners of people and groups he experiences as divisive and hateful. He is at his best when he combines hooky tunes with smart imagery, such as on “Underwater Sculpture Garden.”
“In the underwater sculpture garden and museum of sunken ideas you can see the statues of confederate losers,” Dondero sings, “to remind you how they lost the war.”
“Thought I Was a Hurricane” seemingly smashes ruminations on anxiety with an imagined hair metal show in Central Florida. The track delivers much-needed humor on an album that mostly offers comedic moments in scathing, not laughable ways.
“I couldn’t rock you like a tropical depression, just bummed you out with my confession,” Dondero offers, “but the Scorpions are gonna be playing in Tampa tonight.”
The Filter Bubble Blues is rich in current-day allusions — from Robert Mueller to gerrymandering to bathroom bills to the Charlottesville, Virginia, alt-right rally to the Las Vegas concert shooting — making it what will one day be a time-capsule artifact of tough times.
Listening to the album, it’s unclear whether Dondero has hope that future generations will break the capsule’s seal in a sunnier era. His cynicism on The Filter Bubble Blues is understandable, but ultimately it smothers any remaining gasps of hope.