THE ROYAL RENDEZVOUS - Dollhouse (Off the Hip)
After the ear-blasting goodness of their first album it's reassuring to see Dollhouse haven't deviated one iota from their pre-determined mission of making the fieriest, most grooving and soulful guitar music since, well, the MC5. To paraphrase someone else who had a similar fondness for the Five, these boys are locked in on a target and they're intent on bringing it in.
Every second Scandinavian band quotes the Five as a reference point but very few live up to it. Dollhouse is one of the few. Blessed with Michael Davis' endorsement (something you can't blame them for sticking on every one-sheet for the rest of their existence) for pulling off, on record, what his band always strived for, these cocky guitar slingers are up to the mark - and then some.
Call it sacrilege but you can stack Dollhouse up against the "High Time" MC5. "The Royal Rendezvous" doesn't have the same varied sonic palette but Dollhouse aren't the ragged revolutionaries of "Kick Out the Jams" either. By the time their final studio album came about, the MC5 were troubled but grimly focussed. Like the Five, Dollhouse are accomplished groove merchants who know it needs to rock AND roll. And when they fire on all cylinders, duck for cover.
Great songs help. "Let's Get It On" is strident yet slinky rhythms that recall Jimi's "Crosstown Traffic" before slipping into a "Future/Now" breakdown. Call-and-response lyrics and beefy guitars that work equally well on "Do You Know What I Mean". "The Rock and Soul Fever" is another obvious statement of intent and boasts not a wasted note, while "With My Heart and Soul" is a bluesy declaration that shimmies across the soundscape with grace and conviction. They believe and so should you.
Nicke Andersson (Hellacopters) has done a fabulous job producing and imparts warm, chunky sounds while leaving lots of room for Chris Winter's rich vocal to cut through. Winter and Andreas Heed are stellar hands on guitar, blaring away without falling over the edge into excess. They know when not to play. Others might take heed.
At the heart of the matter is the engine room, however, and Yoda Chrome (bass) and Marcus S Davis keep it rooted to the floor but limber.
While the Five might have taken much of their lead from James Brown and the all-pervading hometown Motown influence, I'd guess there's a bigger thread of blues running through Dollhouse's songs - at least on this album. "The Worried Blues" is a prime example with Chrome's sinewy bassline making the headroom as Winter and Heed solo over the top. Nothing new but it sure sounds cool when done this well.
Dollhouse very nearly toured Australia a few years back about the same time as DKT/MC5 and arguably would have been a better match than one American import who shared billing on at least one gig. The deal soured (many would say it never existed in the first place) so is it too much to ask for someone to get 'em on a plane? If it doesn't come to pass at least we'll still have their albums. – The Barman
THE ROCK AND SOUL CIRCUS – Dollhouse (Dim Mak)
Some bands want to sound like their heroes and do so, but fail miserably to inspire. Others do it, but maintain enough individuality to steer their own path. Dollhouse sits firmly in the latter category.
Dollhouse is a band I heard more about before I heard them. That's not always a good sign. You may have seen these guys in “Sonic Revolution” (aka “Kick Out the Jeans”), the Levis- endorsed DVD of the DKT-MC5 100 Club show of a few years back. They’re the Scandis staying in a hostel who made the trek to London for the gig. They looked a little overcome and the good news is that being interviewed is the least of their talents.
MC5 bassist Michael Davis was impressed enough by this bunch of Swedes to produce this, their debut album. You can hear why. Raucous and wild, but possessed with an underlying soulfulness that sets them apart from others who would harvest this same field, Dollhouse have an intrinsic “loose-tightness” at their rhythmic core. At the risk of accusations of hyperbole, it’s the stuff of greatness and a meeting point between Sab-styled riff fests, balls-out boogie and the “High Time” era Five.
A few of the later songs aren’t up to the mark but cut ‘em some slack - it is their first long-player. At times you’ll wish for a bit more light and shade in the production, or a more expensive studio where the best elements of the sound can be thrown into sharper relief. Hey - it should be a hanging offence to have the BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula guest on your record and then bury her vocal. But all that’s just about swept aside when you hear the triple punch that opens this: “Shangrila Tiger,” “Bang Bang Bang” and “The Human Being Lawnmower” (the one and only) really sort the men from the boys.
It was an obvious tactic, rolling out the aforementioned Five cover as well as “Born Under a Bad Sign” (a staple in that band’s early sets) but if you love your influences as much as this, then give exposure to them, I say. “Lawnmower” isn’t slavishly replicated, and although you may think reeling out an original called “Ode to Ra” a cheap device to put you in the same atonal universe as Coltrane (and by default, the free-styling MC5), you’ll reconsider when you hear its genuinely free-wheeling sound and the killer song it segues into, "Come On Baby".
A quartet when this was recorded but now pared to a power-trio, Dollhouse have a healthy regard for wah-wah and just enough sense to avoid all the excess that goes with, uh, sonic excess. In other words, the songs are great. Guitarist-vocalist Chris Winter is on the same page as Rob Tyner with his rich, melodic set of pipes; where he diverges is his ability to kick it off in another direction and lay on a genuine Viking howl. Propulsive drumming, courtesy Marcus Scjoberg, and a sympathetic and fluid bass player in Yoda Chrome (wonder if he’s related to Cheetah?) give Dollhouse a rock solid foundation on which to build.
And build they do with songs that hustle and groove with just the right amount of bluster and blare. Word has it that Hellacopters mainman Nick Royale is producing the next studio effort. Hopefully, Nick's centuries of accumulated studio expertise will rub off and it'll be even better than this outing. While you're waiting for that, beg, borrow or steal a copy of "Circus". It’s that good.
– The Barman
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