Review Summary: Despite being difficult to appreciate at first, for fans at least, a great record
Released in May of 2008 “No, Virginia” is a collection of songs that didn’t quite make the bands second album, a selection of b-sides, an old demo and a few rare tracks from compilations. However, despite some of the material here being written five years apart, the tracks do mesh well and feel like what could be a very respectable album. At first I found it hard to enjoy a few of the songs here, not seeing them as proper Dolls material. “The Mouse and the Model” in particular for some reason, perhaps due to it being a demo, didn’t have the same tense atmosphere that makes the Dolls music so spectacularly unique. Such prominent use of a bass guitar on “The Gardener” had me feeling that this simply wasn’t a true Dresden Dolls record. However, once I began to think of “No, Virginia” as a companion to its similarly entitled predecessor it all began to make sense. It seems to me as though the tracks that did make the cut for “Yes, Virginia” were just the ones that fitted the mood that the band wanted to create. The songs on “No, Virginia” however whilst maintaining some of the themes from the aforementioned album, branch into new territory, whilst still maintaining the sense that they are very much Dolls songs. In this way, a fan like me can get a better insight into the music the band creates and it’s incredibly interesting to hear what happens when a band whose music you know very well goes off on a complete tangent.
Particular highlights here are the cover of The Psychedelic Furs “Pretty in Pink”. It sounds wonderfully cinematic, and is a good example of what a cover should be. Taking a song, putting your own spin on it, and not taking yourself too seriously (thus explaining my hatred for Mark Ronson). One of the few b-sides entitled “The Kill” is also worthy of note. Along with “Night Reconnaissance” and “Dear Jenny” it’s one of the tracks that one would have thought could have worked well on “Yes, Virginia”. It’s moody intro and distinctly cabaret sound makes it comforting to any Dresden Dolls fan. However, to simply venerate this track above the others misses the point of the album. To me it’s about exploring another facet of the Dresden Dolls. Tracks such as “The Gardener” and “Ultima Esperanza” whilst at first intimidating soon become intensely interesting even if after analysis, you go straight back to “Yes, Virgina”.
Worth mentioning is the up-tempo “Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner”. It’s the poppiest song here, featuring the fastest and most unhinged piano work by Amanda Palmer since “Modern Moonlight” and “Necessary Evil”. The drum work is incredibly tight here and indeed on all the other songs on the album. “The Sheep Song” is a slow-burning track that swells in dynamics and changes from beautiful passages to unsettling crescendos. It’s a track that may have been out of place on “Yes, Virginia” but here is an absolute gem. For me the hallmark of a good song is whether it can evoke a certain mood or time or place. “The Sheep Song” does exactly that, being one of those songs that only makes real sense when the sun goes down and you’re on your own.
This being a Dresden Dolls album the musicianship and degree of inventiveness is astounding, enhanced by the lack of necessity to make the tracks sit together well. Oddly enough however the tracks do sit well together and the album can be listened to from start to finish without so much as a cringe. The degree of variety between songs is also very impressive, ranging from the strained “Lonesome Organist” to the droning “The Gardener”. “No, Virginia” also helps fans get hold of rare tracks relatively cheaply, something I am a big fan of being a lowly student.
However, there are a few criticism to be levied at “No, Virginia”. I find it very difficult to get into the track “Boston” but that may be a personal thing. Some of the tracks here are also a bit lacking in a sense of direction, and seem to be overly long. For instance, “Sorry Bunch” is very accessible, despite sounding a bit like a Yahoo advert, but has little depth and is only worth a few listens. The album as a whole does have less replay value than “Yes, Virginia”, maybe due to the fact that it’s a collection of songs rather than an album, but I do find myself tiring of it more quickly than other Dolls releases.
In conclusion, I love this album. It’s a great way to experience another side of the Dresden Dolls and has a lot for the definite fan. A newcomer who wants to hear a variety of Dolls music, for the price of one album may be attracted by the fact that the songs here are from the span of the Dolls career but they’d be better advised to buy the self-titled album. In short, “No, Virginia” won’t appeal to everyone and may be the sort of thing that casual listeners grow tired of quickly. However, for fans such as myself, this is a great record and well timed considering the Dolls recent hiatus.