Does anyone really enjoy mechanical bulls? Is there much to be gained from clinging white-knuckled to the horns of a stuffed animal, cheered on by wasted beer-chuggers, just waiting to be thrown gracelessly to the ground? Because you don’t win on a mechanical bull. Everyone ends up on their arse in the end.
The mechanical bull is a fitting metaphor, then, for a woman desperately trying to shake off clingy, unwanted men. It’s another situation with no winners. Neither the woman, harassed and harangued, nor the man, rejected and kicked to the kerb, is the victor. On her new single, Perth musician Stella Donnelly explores the joyless relationship between the bull and rider, the woman going about her business and the man deciding she wants his attention.
Rather than stick to a cut-and-dry ‘men are bad’ narrative, Donnelly’s ‘Mechanical Bull’ is inward-looking, more a rumination on her own personality than a condemnation of anyone else’s. “I’ll be your sweet sugar muffin with the cream / But stay on my back for too long and I’ll spin ya,” she sings, acknowledging the duality of her own persona. Later on, she declares herself a “a fucking arsehole”, chastising herself for an emotional unavailability that drives people away.
‘Mechanical Bull’ was released last year, but is currently enjoying a new lease of life thanks to her EP Thrush Metal being re-released in the US. Not only that, but the track has a new video that sees Donnelly working at a restaurant serving a queue of men disembodied mannequin limbs. It’s a pretty on-the-nose depiction of the male gaze, but a fitting one nonetheless.
Donnelly’s track, the highlight of her EP, echoes the easy-going lilt of fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, though its arrangement is far more fragile. ‘Mechanical Bull’ is a simple strummed guitar and vocals affair, Donnelly sounding at home on a stripped-back song that positions her lyrics at the forefront. There is a suggestion of violence in the repeated refrain of “I need to be alone / You’ve been at my throat,” though the almost deadpan delivery suggests something more mundane. It’s this ambiguity that gives the track its allure – Donnelly remaining a compelling but enigmatic presence throughout.
‘Mechanical Bull’ is a song that can be read in various ways, perhaps a story of lost friendship and emotional claustrophobia, or maybe a more unsettling narrative of lascivious men and self-loathing. But whatever Donnelly’s intentions, ‘Mechanical Bull’ is a thoughtful and enthralling track, and one that marks the Perth singer as an important new talent.