Review Summary: A stellar record that flows as easily as a cold beer, and leaves you just as satisfied.
A few years ago, as I progressively left nu-metal and dipped my feet into classic metal, rock and punk, I kept hearing rave reviews about this band called the New York Dolls. Supposedly, these guys had given rise to, and served as inspiration for, not only the punk movement, but also my beloved glam rock. Naturally, my curiosity was high, and it was with a certain disappointment that I got my first taste of the Dolls. Sure, Looking For a Kiss
was a nice song, and all, but I just couldn’t see what the big deal was. Later on, I heard Chatterbox
in the voice of Sid Vicious, and fell in love with the song, tone-slips and all. But the Dolls themselves continued to not impress me in the slightest.
Recently, however, I decided to give them one last chance. I came across Too Much, Too Soon
, their foreshadowingly-titled sophomore effort, and decided to download it. “If this sucks, I’m done with these guys”, I thought. 40 minutes later, however, I had been enlightened, and had finally understood what was wrong with my approach: I had been listening to the wrong album all along.
In fact, in my perousal of the Dolls, I had always favoured their first album, based on the tried and true principle that bands are usually at their best on their debuts. This reasoning works nine times out of ten, but the New York Dolls prove to be the exception to the rule. Their self-titled first album is mediocre at best; as for Too Much, Too Soon
, it is, in one word, perfect.
The numbers speak for themselves: ten songs on this album, and not one of them is weak. Not a single one can be classified as “filler” or even “boring”; all rank as decidedly above-average rock’n’roll songs. The closest the group comes to a weak track is on Human Being
, an unremarkable track that is ultimately salvaged by a good chorus. It’s Too Late
also runs a little overlong, but its catchy beginning and some good lyricism ensure that it, too, keeps its head above the water. And as far as more “dubious” cuts go, that’s it. Every one of the remaining eight songs is an absolute blast, and at least a couple rank as definitely excellent.
Musicianship on this album is of a remarkably good level. For all their street-punk bravado and drag-queen posturing, the New York Dolls were comprised of five solid instrumentalists, and it shows. Everyone knows about Johnny Thunders, of course, a blistering guitarist whose story is right up there with Sid Vicious’ in the pantheon of prematurely deceased musicians. But there is also Arthur Kane, capable of walking, bluesy bass lines that often help the songs gain a new dimension of groove; Jerry Nolan, competent if undistinguished drummer; Sylvain Sylvain, who never steps out of Thunders’ shadow, but complements his guitar work with aplomb; and David Johansen, the voice of the band’s message. His voice cannot be classified as remarkable in any way, but it perfectly fits the band’s tough, sneery attitude.
This leads us to our second point: for all their cross-dressing antics, the Dolls made sure to establish that they were NOT poofs. Lyrically, songs like Puss’n’Boots
or Human Being
are filled with defiant bravado and humorous contempt for posers and other losers of society. Take Puss’n’Boots
, a song about a guy who “had to change his name/’cause all the bullseyed girls think he’s too easy game”
. According to Johansen, this was because ”the boots were making him lame”
, and in the chorus, the singer leaves a warning: ”dress like puss’n’boots/I hope you don’t get shot for tryin’”
. Similarly, Human Being
features lines like ”if I’m actin’ like a king/that’s cause I’m a human being”
. And what should one say about Showdown
, a song centred around a direct challenge from one punk to another? The only time where the Dolls flirt with gayness is in their doo-wop inspired backing vocals, which are nothing but a direct reflection of their 60’s-pop influences.
But with all this talk about their abilities and lyrics, we are leaving out this record’s most important asset: its songs. As noted above, every one of them is strong – if unconventionally built - and each has at least one point of interest. Be it Nolan and Johansen counting to five on Showdown
, Thunders’ blistering guitar intro to It’s Too Late
, the call-and-response pattern of Stranded In THe Jungle
or the country-western (!) vibe of Bad Detective
, where the “stereotypical chinese music” only helps add to the “WTF”-ness. All in all, a pretty damn near perfect set of songs, and one of the more easily-digestible records I have ever heard. It slides down your throat like a particularly good glass of beer, and leaves you feeling just as satisfied.
Highlights on this album are clearly discernible right from the get-go. Stranded In The Jungle
is an hilarious track that cuts back-and-forth between the “jungle” (complete with tribal beats and monkey sounds) and the “city”, where doo-wop reigns supreme. Its lyrics also attempt to tell a real story, about a guy who is “trying to get a date”
with his girlfriend, ”who was back in the States”
. He eventually makes it there, but when he does, he adivses his girlfriend not to touch him, because he is ”covered in fleas”
. Hilarious, and one of the most original songs I ever heard from a rock band.
However, even it pales in comparison to the absolute best song on this album, Puss’n’Boots
. This ultra-addictive slice of musical bliss is where the Dolls’ mixture of 50’s rock’n’roll riffs, 60’s bubblegum pop hooks and 70’s street-punk attitude best melds together, creating a track that is, by all standards, perfect, even if it does meander a little towards the end. The third standout slot is left to Bad Detective
, an all-around fun song where the offbeat influences contribute to create a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that perfectly suits the B-movie “plot” conveyed in the song’s lyrics.
But while these three tracks are the standouts, the ones that surround them are by no means bad, even if most of them tend to over-repeat their choruses in the outro. Whether they’re giving their own twist to obscure 50’s covers (Showdown, Don’t Start Me Talkin’
) or playing their own material, the Dolls keep an amazingly high standard of quality in this album’s ten songs. Babylon
and It’s Too Late
are fun blues-rock songs, while Who Are The Mystery Girls, Showdown
and Human Being
provide strong backup. Chatterbox
is shorter and more straightforward, while the cover of Don’t Start Me Talkin’
is particularly successful, raising an already great song to new heights and giving it a fresh once-over.
When push comes to shove, then, this is another mandatory listen for anyone who loves their rock’n’roll. Not only is it historically relevant, it is also a damn fine record in itself. My final reccomendation can only be one: get it. Now.
Stranded In The Jungle