God help us all the New York Dolls are back and they are halfway serious. Or at least as serious as middle aged men in high heel sneakers and pink leopard print trousers can be.
Hailing from NYC in the early seventies the Dolls were notoriously flamboyent and trashy at a time when mainstream rock was notoriously boring with it's growing legion of stale arena rock bands and "look at me" style soloing and musicianship that seemd to rule the day. Raw, stripped down, and fabulously and fashionably trashy in platform shoes, lipstick, mascara, and basically womens clothing in general, the Dolls were androgynous to be sure and put the glam in glam rock before it even had a name. Bringing influences with them that ranged from The Stooges to The Rolling Stones to the Phil Spector "girl groups" and The Velvet Underground, among others, the New York Dolls took the best of those influences and turned it into something altogether new and exciting. Whether or not the mainstream understood the Dolls was besides the point. The artists, musicans, and critics that make things happen in the musical underground and beyond took notice and a dirty legend was born. And the New York Dolls became the future of rock n roll before anyone even knew it had a future of any sort beyond boring Zep tunes or old Beatles songs.
Never a commercial success by any stretch of the imagination the Dolls splintered in 1975 and disbanded altogether in 1977. So it came as a surprise to many when in 2004 three surviving members of the original Dolls line-up showed up to say they were reuniting to play a few gigs and make a live LP with more work to follow. And when one member (bassist Arthur Kane) was suddenly stricken with and taken by cancer in the middle of that same year, things did not look too promising the two remaining members (singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, respectively) would continue with the Dolls new plans. However, emboldened by the well recieved reunion and excited about making music as the New York Dolls once again, Johansen and Sylvain recruited former Hanoi Rocks bassist and Dolls fanatic Sami Yaffa to make up for the loss of Kane, and along with a couple of hired hands in 2005 set out to record new material as the New York Dolls once again.
The resulting album, the aptly titled "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This", gets off to a shaky start of the sort you would expect from a couple of middle aged men putting on high heels once again after a long absence. Kicking things off with the somewhat creaky rocker "We're All In Love" the Dolls come out of the gate sounding much like your generic alt rock bands of today and punk bands of yesteryear. Sounding a bit like The Strokes on a healthy dose of steroids at the intro and a lot like the latter day Sex Pistols, "We're All In Love" stumbles forward for almost five minutes of dreary riffs and chunky bass lines and never really does anything to evoke the old spirit of this band. Thankfully with the next track up, the blustery and ballsy Stones like romp "Runnin' Around" we are given reason to hope as this song finds it's focus early and cuts a deep groove that never let's up. Kicking the song off with catcalls and street whistles Johansen grabs this track by the neck and shakes it down for all it's worth. "Since I was a boy I liked them high heel shoes" Johansen states with all the necessary attitude required to make you believe it, and later taunts "I'm lovin' what I see from here/Is that flesh colored underwear?". And if you closed your eyes you might even swear this was a dirtier Stones crew with a frontman not named Jagger. And just as encouraging are the two songs that follow. Drawing on those Spector "girl group" influences that were always a part of this bands music, Johansen and Sylvain first pull a gem of a pop song out from under their crushed velvet hats with the swirling and nostalgic mid tempo ballad "Plenty Of Music" and then bust the whole album open with the silly and stupid "Dance Like A Monkey". With a propulsive jungle beat and riff heavy guitar work we are treated to complete New York Dolls irreverence as Johansen joyously sings "Evolution is obsolete/C'mon clap your hands and stomp your feet/C'mon!!" and ridiculously shouts "It's monkey time!" while the band rocks hard beside him. And if it all sounds a bit cheesy and over the top, well, it might be in the hands of others. But in the hands of these now professional showmen it's just good time rock n roll at it's foolish best.
"Punishing World" comes blaring out of the speakers next and despite the boys giving it a good go, the problems with this cut and others on the album like it can't be hidden beneath all the noisy guitars and raving. Along with the initial track and the still to come "Gotta Get Away From Tommy" and Social Distortion like "Gimme Love And Turn On The Light", respectively, these highly charged punk inspired songs simply lack the energy and conviction to hold the listeners attention for very long and ultimitely distract from the goodness of the rest of the album. Sounding like "we influenced punk rock and now punk rock has influenced us" kind of recordings, not only are these tracks the least of this album but the Dolls sound like they are trying just a bit too hard to make things exciting on these tunes. And while not disasterous they cut into the flow of the album nonetheless. To their credit however, Johansen and Sylvain have not sought on this record to simply embrace the glory of punking it up to show the new dogs the old dogs can still keep pace. And the secret weapon of the Dolls way back in the day is thankfully still present today. And that weapon is good songwriting.
And putting those songwriting skills on full display the boys get the second half of things started with one of this albums highlights. "Fishnets And Cigarettes" is as solid a rock n roll song as has been put out all year. Nothing special, nothing wild or edgy. Just a stomping rythmn and tight melody as Johansen knowingly sings his lyrics of unrequited love, sex, or both. "I was sitting here all alone/I was praying you would come home/I was listening to an old blues song" he opens, and once again just like the better cuts that came previous this song jumps out at you with a great melody and great playing, grabs the listener by the balls, and doesn't let go until the final note. "Getting a little impatient/Smoking like a mental patient" Johansen continues with the sort of clever wordplay that is sprinkled throughout the entire album. And as if to leave no doubt to the singers recent comment that the New York Dolls were always "basically a loud blues band" heading for home perhaps the best pure song on the record, "I Ain't Got Nothin'", pokes its head out of the shadows to take a look back on things as the now 50'ish Johansen croons "This is not how the end should of come/Who could of imagined this when I was young/Where is everybody/It's not the way I wanted it to be". It's a bittersweet ballad that tells the story of someone who lived too fast but managed not to die too young and Johansen sings it like a man who has stood in those shoes. And it clearly shows the maturity and depth the surviving members of this band have taken on over the years. The Dolls wouldn't think to leave us on such a downer note, though. So bringing up the rear we get the spirited pop-punk of "Rainbow Store" with it's be-bop inspired jump and swing style and finally the solid and longing farewell song "Take A Good Look At My Good Looks", which closes the album not with a wild and raucous NYC howl but rather a twangy and once again bittersweet tale that suits these new New York Dolls to a tee.
1973 it is not. And thankfully for their return the New York Dolls understand this. No longer the young upstarts they once were in fishnets and spandex taking bold new music to an unfamiliar and not quite ready for it world, on "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This" the New York Dolls have given us an album that one day they will indeed be pleased to look back on and smile about. What could of been a cheesy throwback to past glories (so far as that goes for underground bands like the Dolls) or an embarrassing misstep that proves old legends should leave well enough alone, instead these new Dolls have come up with something as classic sounding and relevant as that now long ago original. No longer at the forefront of a bold new era in rock n roll this disc finds this storied and legendary band locked in a groove with all it's influences and happy to be there. Perhaps a classic case of the more things change the more they stay the same, the New York Dolls rock hard and rock often on this new album, and in places it evokes the musical spirit of the original group so much you wonder beyond the unique look of the band back in '73 what all the hoopla must of been about? Was it really all about playing dress up and barely knowing how to play your instruments after all? Was this the stuff of rock n roll genuis? Answer: Yes, it was. And that's exactly what it was about. Good, angsty, stupid fun. And on "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This" the New York Dolls return to remind us once again it's only rock n roll. And there is plenty of reason to like it.