In Review: Donny Benét - Mr Experience

Donny Benét’s cult of personality carries his latest album – a retro-maniac parade of disco’s finest – over and above the call of duty.
Posted: 15 June 2020 Words: Miles Ellingham

Listening to Donny Benét (or ‘Donny Boy’ as the industry lovingly dubs him) is like visiting a used car dealer, who, having run out of cars, decides to flog you some Italo Disco. Mr Experienceis, at its core, a retrospective piece of work. It harkens back to a simpler time in the dance music canon, one preserved in synthesisers, saxophone, thick bass and drum machines. There’s a canned element to it also, like the theme song to an air-brushed buddy-cop show (and, indeed, Benét cites Joe Hammer’s Miami Vice soundtrack as having a long-term influence on his work).   

The question to ask then is this: if Benét’s music is built almost entirely on retromania, what makes it feel so fresh and exciting? The answer is Benét’s character. Mr Experience is a disco vision from the most charismatic man to come out of Sydney since Rod Taylor. On every track Benét’s eccentricities shine though; whether he’s beseeching the heart in ‘Girl of My Dreams’ or soaking sunlight in ‘Negroni Love’.  

The album sounds like the best party you’ve ever attended in a hotel lobby – and it should sound a bit like that as the project was reportedly conceived, perhaps like many of us, from the inside of a superking-bed suite. The record was written in isolation, apparently. Well now it’s for those in isolation, and the enjoyment one can glean from some Donny one-on-one time is, it must be said, a real pick-me-up. 

However, like all those who seek to play the clown, Benét knows that things have to go deeper for the work to be emotionally impactful, or, as Benét puts it, it can’t be just “an album of dance hits…” but rather “an album of real, written songs.”  And I think he’s accomplished this. Though Benét relies heavily on the funk of the thing – the clean synth, the bulbous bass swagger – there’s also a glimmer of self-examination.  The listener is invited into the mind of Mr Experience, someone ceaselessly confronted with an uncertain, shifting world, before being implored to help the titular character become his best self.  

The song ‘Reach Out’, for example, employs a ‘come what may’ attitude as a tool for confronting the future head on, for not dooming oneself to an entrenched pessimism.  “So holdon, who needs love / When we find ourselves / Surrounded by uncertainty?” murmurs Benét over a couple of modulators and a supremely funky bass flow, showcasing a wider philosophy within the work, one that can be utilised to change oneself – a manual for being more like Donny Boy. 

Sure, Donny Benét’s Mr Experience may look back in time, but so does everything – the music of today is consistently haunted by ghosts of the past. What sets Mr Experience apart is that Donny knows how to have some fun with them. 

Mr. Experience is out now via Dot Dash Recordings.

More from buzz