Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New York Dolls: "Dancing Backward in High Heels"

                Since any review of a new-era Dolls album has to talk lineup, let’s just get it out of the way.  I have no issue with David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain continuing to use the New York Dolls name; no one left roaming the Earth has more right to it.  What’s more, all of the studio material they’ve released since resurrecting their former moniker has been of exceedingly high quality.  At the end of the day, that’s all that should matter.  With music as good as these two gents have been responsible for in recent years, I could hardly care less if they call it the New York Dolls, the Johansen/Sylvain band, Buster Poindexter 2K, or the Flying Fart Ensemble.

                The only problem with using the Dolls name is that so long as they do, there will always be a myopic contingent that wants them to do little more than simulate their shambolic ‘70s sound.  That’s unfortunate, because Johansen, Sylvain and their partners in crime have done something far better: they’ve created new material that honors the original band without pretending that time hasn’t passed.  Johansen’s trademark sass has gained in both wisdom and syllables, and the Sylvain-led band condescends to no one by pretending they haven’t acquired greater chops in the intervening decades.  They’re still unquestionably Dolls, but the two originals know firsthand just how lucky they are to have made it this far, and they’re not kidding anyone about how many years it has been.

                In a way, each of their new-era albums has focused on updating a particular aspect of the original Dolls’ sound.   One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This brought the subway train roar, ‘Cause I Sez So played the blues, and this new album breathes new life into the ‘60s/girl group sounds the Dolls have always loved.  In some ways, that’s probably the trickiest aspect to pull off: it’s a thin line between nostalgia and timelessness, but you can count on these sharp scholars to know which is which.  Farfisa organs and stomping beats abound, rendering Dancing Backward in High Heels an album that could have been made at any time since ’67 or so in the best possible way.  Their cover of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” may be the best record Phil Spector never made, “Streetcake” serves as an early statement of purpose, and the updating of Johansen’s solo classic “Funky but Chic” works in spades.  “I’m So Fabulous”, complete with spoken rant, is laugh out loud funny, while elegiac closer “End of the Summer” will break your heart as it charms.  Really, there’s not an ounce of filler here; each song works both individually and as part of the greater whole.  The only potential disappointment Dancing Backward in High Heels possibly offers is to those for whom loud, overdriven guitars are mandatory.  If true, timeless rock ‘n’ roll is your bottom line, this is recommended without reservations.

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