Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I became a New York Dolls fan fairly late in life. I guess my first exposure to the band was singer David Johansen's solo videos on MTV back in the day: they used to always play his medley of Animals covers. Of course, after that was his era as Buster Poindexter, which in retrospect, was a very clever character (but I don't need to hear "Hot, Hot Hot" anymore).

When I finally learned about the Dolls, I wasn't into it: they reminded me of the hair metal bands that I wasn't into. But I was missing out! And in 2004, I realized it, when a publicist took me onstage to watch the band. They were playing Little Steven's Underground Garage Rock Festival, right before the two other headliners, The Strokes and The Stooges. The Dolls were unbelievable. The minute Johansen walked on stage, he just owned it. After that reunion, they started making records again.

Their latest, Dancing Backward In High Heels, is their third since getting back together. They only did two albums before breaking up, so they've more than doubled their discography! And let's get one thing straight: nothing they do will ever match the power and impact of their self-titled debut from 1973. But even though there are only two original members: Johansen and guitarist Syvian Sylvian, the current band kicks ass live and has made good records.  Dancing Backward is cool: it sort of leans heavily towards their big "wall of sound" and girl group influence, and doesn't have much of the aggressive punk rock sneer. The thing I like about that is, they are being relatively appropriate for their age, while remaining true to their influences (that said, I love the in-your-face sound of some of the songs from their last album, 'Cause I Sez So). I think the album makes more sense if you listen to Johansen's SiriusXM show (yes, I work there, but I listened to his show before I worked there), where he plays everything from Motown to opera to country to girl group songs to soft rock (like Toto and Bread!) to, well, The New York Dolls. Dancing Backward brings more of these influences to the forefront than maybe their previous albums did. "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," with its strings and female backing singers is something that Johansen probably wanted to do for years. "Funky But Chic" is a great mission statement for the band and Johansen himself, and is one of the only rockers.

I was a bit appalled to find out what the band is doing this summer (and I imagine Morrissey - who coaxed the band out of retirement in the first place to perform at the Meltdown Festival, which he curated - feels the same way).  They are OPENING on the Motley Crue/Poison tour. I guess it's cool of those bands to take the Dolls out: they don't need openers, and at any rate, their audience probably won't "get" the Dolls. It's strange that they are promoting their least rock album on a tour with conservatively rock bands on the bill. But who knows, maybe a few people will get turned on to the Dolls, which would be a great thing. If you are one of those people, start with the 1973 album, but Dancing isn't a bad one either.

No comments: