You could say that it’s pretty ironic that the bawdy indecorous New York Dolls have now released more albums since their timely rejuvenation at the bequest of Morrissey – the one time Dolls fanclub president brought together the surviving trio of members for the 2004 Meltdown Festival – then they did back in their heyday during the early 70s.
Few bands have survived such a disastrous run of malediction bad luck; band members succombed to overdoses (Billy Murcia), suspicious circumstances involving drugs (Johnny Thunders), and leukemia (Arthur Kane). Both David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain – the rhythm guitarist who liked his name so much, he used it twice – must have an uneasy time of side-stepping the cracks in the pavements , being the last two original members still standing: you could say they wrote, if not edited, the rule book on excess.
That salacious swagger, wit and hard knocks school of transvestite chic – crossdressers who could more then cut it in a downtown sidewalk brawl – of theirs set the benchmark for badboy glam and punk. Which is why plenty has already been written about the Dolls and their place in the rock’n’roll anuals; influencing a roll-call of pretenders. Carting in collaborators or stand-ins wasn’t a difficult task, with a host of guns fo hire rounded up from numorus new-wave and high-stacked hairdo punk outfits, including the odd stray from Hanoi Rocks and, even, Blondie whose Frank Infante plays lead guitar on the new record. Production falls to another fanboy: the equally tounge-in-cheek raunchy rocker frontman of Louis XIV, Jason Hill proves to be an inspired choice, though his work is cut out in trying to ingratiate these strutting legends with a new generation of fans, whilst not letting down those who’ve followed the goup since day one.
Dancing Backwards In High Heels, their fifth studio LP proper, starts off well. The opening shot across the bows Parisian flavoured Bowery raunch of Street Cake, has Johansen drawling with his bruising enuciation quaffs such doughboy metophers as, “Ain’t gonna be Marie Antoinette, I love you better then that old baguette” – at least that’s what I think I heard! Tango-esque sauntering poses produce an atavistic Eurocentric curiosity of a song. Dipping back and forth from past conquests, most of the catalogue of songs echo both Sylvian and Johansens affection for 50s hotrod, miscreant-teenager-in-love, doo-wop; the production and motifs of Phil Spector, plus the tremelo operatic tones of Joe Meek. To be fair this isn’t anything new, as the guys have never shied away from wearing those influences on their frilly laced sleeves. Here they continue to swoon and allude to the charm of girl-groups such as The Shirelles, Ronettes, Crystals and Patti Labelle’s early vocal group,The Blue Belles – a cover of their 1962 hit, I Sold My Heart To The Junkman, is reinvigorated on the album.
Post-modern glam comes courtersy of the lipsticked Waites tonking Talk To Me Baby, whilst Roxy Music sophistication and suffused smooshing saxophone are added to the Bolan posturing of Funky But Chic. Unfortunately they feel obliged to try and revisit such hopelessly burdensome embarrassing genres as reaggae; the tracks Baby Tell Me What You’re On, and the church organ Beach Boys pained malady balled, End Of The Summer, only just about cut it under scrutiny.
Truth is, admirers and longtime fans will still lap this up, blanketed in the warm glow of past glories, but green new-comers may just wonder what all the fuss was about. Harsh as it may seem, the Dolls will never sound as lively, trashy or dangerous as they did when they briefly stood looming large over New York in the early 70s. It’s indeed an even sadder state of affairs when the group who recorded such stalwart legacies as their ‘New York Dolls’ debut and follow-up ‘Too Much Too Soon’ albums, now have to support the likes of Motley Crue and Poison on tour this Summer; two groups who weren’t, and sure ain’t fit now, to share the same stage; another symptomatic tragic example of the nostalgia industry.
Release date: 15th March 2011