'CAUSE I SEZ SO – New York Dolls (Atco)
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Despite all efforts to convince myself otherwise with trigger-happy, praise-riddled rhetoric, I've now come to the crashing realization these guys really aren’t the New York Dolls I took so much guff for adoring back in high school, literally (Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane are all dirt napping) and figuratively (gone forever apparently are chipper anthems about fixin', kissin', and Vietnamese babies). If you listen closely, you can hear the Barman gloating and shaking his head all the way across the globe from Detroit. That’s what I get for living in the past. Maybe I should wipe the slate clean and finally turf those 8-track tapes I've been clutching for the past three decades.
First the good news, since I'm a glass-half-full type. There are a handful of songs on "'Cause I Sez So", the Dolls' second kick at the cat since their long season of obscurity and stagnation, that suggest it's best to just shut up and dance. The title track, "Muddy Bones", "Exorcism of Despair" and the vaguely-Motownish "Lonely So Long" are full of kinks and cracks and occasional flashes of greatness that suggest maybe – just maybe – you really can go back. And if "Better Than You", complete with twangy, Duane Eddy-style guitar from Steve Conte and/or Sylvain Sylvain, doesn’t raise every hackle on your body, there’s an amber alert with your soul's name on it out there somewhere.
As for the rest, assigning blame is tricky. On that glorious debut album of 1973, producer Todd Rundgren and the band brought out the best in each other, like beer and barbeque. Here, not so much. If the titles alone aren’t enough to make you scream and run the other way like your brain is on fire, "Temptation to Exist" and "Making Rain" play out like nothing so much as let’s-fuck-around-in-the-studio memorabilia with tempos not just slow, but on the verge of expiring, flirting dangerously with sterility, like Barbara Billingsley at the breakfast table in high heels and pearls.
A quick scan of the lyric sheet makes you wonder if David Johansen is convinced he’s being paid by the syllable, cramming phrases like “permanent apocalypse,” “cosmic energies of love,” "mending my conflict with circumstance", and "you’re so buoyant so luciferous" into every nook and cranny. And when he deadpans "Hi everybody, I’m David Jo & the Dolls/We're from New York City", I can hear Buster Poindexter knocking at my front door and asking if he can sleep here for a few nights while his wife cools off.
The less said about the calypso remake of "Trash" the better. Thunders, Nolan, and Kane must be spinning like cyclotrons in their graves.
This ca'’t be how it all ends, can it, with a strange whimper instead of a bang? Roll credits. - Clark Paull
LIVE AT THE FILLMORE EAST - New York Dolls (Sony BMG Custom Marketing Group)
To be honest, I was fully prepared to hate this album after a quick glance at the track list. With only two songs from their downright mercurial reunion album “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This,” it appeared the New York Dolls’ second live album since Year Zero left a lot to be desired, my petulant inner child holding his breath, turning blue, and throwing himself on the carpet in a proud little hissy fit over the exclusion of “Gotta Get Away From Tommy” and “Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano.” And to think that just a few short years ago, I would have taken a bullet for ANYTHING from these guys.
So much for prescience…
These may not be your sister’s Dolls, but they’ll do quite nicely, surviving original members David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain coming up with the next best thing, filling in the gaps left by the cob-webbed corpses of former members with a supporting cast who make up for what they lack in class one narcotics experience with an uncanny knack for sheer sonic oomph when the lights come up. Or, as Johansen puts it so succinctly after they knock the dust, mothballs, and stuffing out of “Jet Boy,” “(a) fuckin’ great band, man.”
Consider it official: drummer Brian Delaney, bassist Sami Yaffa, and (especially) guitarist Steve Conte have simultaneously managed to short circuit any and all protests by even the most jaded amongst us of sell out, novelty act, or wistful sentimentality and boost a fresh shot of claret into the nearly collapsed vampire veins of Johansen and Sylvain. This is a living, breathing, touring band, not a side project nor a convenient waste of time for Johansen while he ponders another Buster Poindexter album or the sequel to “Car 54, Where Are You?” Here’s hoping for another studio album.
The band don’t so much turn in this set as they do attack it, tear it down, and stand on top of the rubble pile with their arm raised in victory, the guitars of Sylvain and Conte bordering on telepathic and headed for Iraq with the radio off and phasers on “Go fuck yourself” during “Personality Crisis,” the 58-year-old Johansen pausing dramatically during an absolutely paint-peeling “Trash” before asking with just a tinge of irony, “Uh, how you call your lover boy?”, and all five raising havoc with a well-lubricated, swivel-hipped but triumphant “Pills.”
While for the most part the Dolls approach this show as a mugger does his victim, it all winds up with Sylvain having a heartfelt go at Johnny Thunders’ signature “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” which segueways beautifully into “Lonely Planet Boy,” leaving yours truly hopeful that at the very least, they'll flip down the blinders and ride this thing out until it’s not fun anymore.
For one brief moment at least, the end of the world doesn’t seem so close. - Clark Paull
ONE DAY IT WILL PLEASE US TO REMEMBER EVEN THIS – New York Dolls (Roadrunner)
And you thought the Dictators took a lot of time off between albums. Nearly 12,000 long days and nights – two generations in some parts of Appalachia - have passed since the release of the New York Dolls’ second album “Too Much Too Soon” back in 1974 and for anyone who’s been following the plot, it should come as no surprise that despite the prominent display of their pink lipstick logo on the wrapper, these aren’t your sister’s Dolls.
All that remains of that lot are Syl Sylvain and David Johansen, Billy Murcia, Jerry Nolan, Johnny Thunders, and Arthur “Killer” Kane all having passed through the cosmic ether for reasons both hackneyed (drugs and/or alcohol for the first three, although there are growing conspiracy theories that Thunders was murdered) and improbable (Kane was felled by leukemia). It may be tempting for the romantic within all of us to anoint those who\ still have a pulse as survivors, heroes, or even saints, but something tells me Sylvain and Johansen aren’t filling their spare time spit polishing haloes or laying hands on the faithful.
It’s hard not only to recall ever anticipating an album as much as “One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This” but, despite the unwieldy title, receiving one that delivers on so many different levels, punching all the neurons, tugging on heartstrings, swelling the chest, and emphatically confirming that the 32-year wait has indeed been worth it.
Dragging producer Jack Douglas kicking and screaming into the new millennium and reloading with guitarist Steve Conte (ex-Company of Wolves), bassist Sami Yaffa (ex-Hanoi Rocks), drummer Brian Delaney, and keyboardist Brian Koonin, Johansen and Sylvain have made it ardently clear they aren’t trying to calibrate the wayback machine for Max’s Kansas City circa 1973, fully cognizant that you can never really go back. Looking for fixes, kisses, mystery girls, and a ride to Babylon doesn’t seem quite as important at the age of 50-something as it does when you’re barely out of your teens. With age comes wisdom, like learning love is spelled with an “o” and an “e,” not a “u.”
That’s not to say they don’t take the time to blow off a little steam and work out the rust like they did back in their less-than-platinum heyday. “Dance Like A Monkey” picks up where their cover of “Stranded In The Jungle” left off, taking the bass line and backing vocals from The Supremes “You Can’t Hurry Love” and welding it to Delaney’s pounding toms and Johansen’s phlegm-that-swallowed-Nebraska howling.
Speaking of which, Johansen’s voice has lost absolutely nothing over the past three decades, dueling Conte’s strutting, guitar wrack-and-ruin to, oh, let’s call it a draw in “Punishing World,” pealing out strong and clear on “Fishnets & Cigarettes,” and grabbing “Rainbow Store” by the scruff of its neck and forcing it to swing.
Nobody sounds quite like Thunders (Freddy Lynxx comes dangerously close) so Conte shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t even try, preferring not to waste his time standing around waiting for the clouds to part and a ray of light to cascade down on him, staking a claim for hero status all by his proud self, slouching, preening, and flaunting what he’s got all over “Runnin’ Around,” “Gimme Luv & Turn On The Light,” and “Gotta Get Away From Tommy,” the sonic equivalents of a cashed paycheck in your pocket, a cold beer in your hand, and a hot brunette (most likely Miss Clairol blue-black) eyeing you from the corner of the bar. Clearly ripped out of his gourd and flush with the rawk, not to mention a coif that borrows the best and worst from The Faces, Bay City Rollers, and Phyllis Diller, Conte’s playing here is a mind-altering necessity of life, at least for about an hour.
The album’s centerpiece, gilt-edged anthem “Dancing On The Lip Of A Volcano,” soars into a cloudless blue sky and when Johansen shouts “let’s dance” (shades of “Frenchette,” no?), Conte’s solo bursts into technicolor, everything on the body stands up, the planets align with a resounding “click” and a loud echo, and one of those empty spots in your soul fills in. Stay with me. I’ve been waiting for this since I was 16.
The songwriting and arrangement here, especially when the band takes a break from shaking off the dust and moving the earth for a quick moment, like “Maimed Happiness,” “Plenty Of Music,” “I Ain’t Got Nothin’,” and “Take A Good Look At My Good Looks,” is startling, pulchritudinous, even relevatory, and despite what’s gone down in the lives of Sylvain and Johansen since we last heard from them, never comes within spitting distance of maudlin.
There’s a DVD bundled here which should appeal to anyone’s inner voyeur provided the image of Johansen tracking his lyrics on an Apple laptop isn’t too disconcerting. While the atmosphere in the studio appears to have been something less than democratic between the old guard and what cynics prefer to think of as hired help, Johansen, Sylvain, and Douglas give new meaning to the words “loose” and “free.”
Along the way they indulge a wide-eyed David Fricke, revealing that Thunders was the most ambitious of the original line-up and Johansen wrote differently for this album than he would have had it been one of his few-and-far-between solo projects (hint, hint), bring an earnest but clearly unnerved Michael Stipe up to speed on what they expect of his backing vocals on “Volcano,” and ponder agenda items like the pogo, doo-wop groups, and similarities between Johansen’s voice and that of Randy Bachman on “Gotta Get Away From Tommy.”
If the New York Dolls didn’t exist, you could never invent them and if you’d told me a few years back that I’d be holding a new album from them in July 2006, I’d probably have pulled out a flashlight and taken a closer look at your pupils. It’s hard to imagine “One Day…” taking chain store window displays by storm, pestering the ring tone charts, or sounding many cash register bells, but it make you smile, chuckle, leap, and maybe even tear up, the kind of party you were never cool enough to crash as a teenager. There is, after all, more to life than the bottom line.
Welcome back. Next time don’t stay away so long. - Clark Paull
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: THE LIVE BOOTLEG BOX SET - New York Dolls (Castle)
According to the placemat on my table at Lim’s last night, 2006 is the Year of the Dog. Well, at least they got the first two letters right because even though we’re only about halfway in, it appears Year of the DOLL may be closer to the truth. Based on all of the Stooges swag dusted off and cleaned up for consumption by the great unwashed masses last year though, the Chinese nailed it when they christened 2005 the Year of the Cock.
Early track listings for this swanky mini box trumpeted the inclusion of studio demos allegedly superior to those versions ultimately released on the two much-maligned albums which make up the Dolls official discography but like Jimmy Hoffa back in 1975, they’ve gone missing somewhere between concept and reality. Has anyone checked the Meadowlands?
What we get instead are three discs worth of shows which, with the possible exception of Vancouver (1974), have all been available on various boots and dodgy, semi-official releases over the past 30 years, packaged a hundred different ways under wrappers like “Panic In Detroit,” “Paris Le Trash,” “Dolls Live: Dallas ’74,” “Live At My Father’s Place,” “Hootchie Cootchie Dolls,” “Seven Day Weekend,” and “Red Patent Leather.” For what it’s worth - - perhaps an afterthought - Castle even throws in three songs from a 1984 Heartbreakers gig in Sweden with Sylvain Sylvain masquerading as Walter Lure, previously available on Receiver Records’ “Sad Vacation.”
Extra credit to whoever untangled the snarl of licensing rights as well as to whoever has to figure out the distribution of royalties.
True believers in the healing powers of digital technology will be dismayed to learn that it has proved worthless as tits on a boar in cleaning up the sound of those dusty old vinyl sides they may have laying around the basement. It’s all as boomy, flat, and muffled as ever, even the Detroit show, culled from a WABX-FM simulcast, but it will do in a pinch. Hand-held cassette recorders held high above a sea of tottering, jean-jacketed chunderheads fortified on Quaaludes and cheap wine were never meant to take the place of a soundboard.
But the performances shine BRIGHTLY nonetheless, like the best night of your life crammed into 60-minute blocks of the sound of five guys, with not inconsiderable chemical assistance, not so much reinventing the wheel as fitting it with shiny chrome mags and raised white lettering. Set lists will read like the back of the hand to the faithful aside from the occasional non-LP track and cover like “Lone Star Queen,” “Great Big Kiss,” “Don’t Mess With Cupid,” and “Daddy Rolling Stone.” Nice to have all of this in one spot, thereby freeing up the vinyl versions for sale on ebay.
Frankly – and I never thought I’d say this - I’m tapped out of adjectives for the New York Dolls, much as I was in 2005 with The Stooges. Reviewing albums by either band without using words like “raw,” “fuzz,” “proto,” “primal,” “punk,” “drugs,” “crash,” or “burn” - ad nauseum - is no longer within my wheelhouse.
“From Here To Eternity” clears the Dolls’ plate just in time to welcome the dawning of a new epoch. Bring on the new album! I’ll meet you there, alright?- Clark Paull
20TH CENTURY MASTERS: THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION - New York Dolls (Mercury/Chronicles)
Growing up, my old man (God rest his soul) ruled our house like a dictator, using a hair-trigger temper and a military approach to discipline as intimidation factors, dancing a fine line between tough love and raising two trained seals.
After The Beatles popped up on "The Ed Sullivan Show" one Sunday night in 1964, his attention was temporarily diverted from my sister and I (well, uh, mainly me) to long-haired guys from England, as he sputtered, fumed, and worked himself up into a fine lather, gracing us with a surreal stream-of-consciousness rant punctuated with many bad words and the occasional mad chuckle thrown in for texture. About 10 years later, after riding my bike up to Dearborn Music in my suburban Detroit hometown and returning with the New York Dolls' first album, having read about the band in "Creem" and "Rock Scene" and stayed up late to catch them on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," I figured the big guy's attitude toward rock and roll had if not reached the point of acceptance, then at least relaxed somewhat. Humph... After he saw the cover photo of Arthur Kane, Sylvain Sylvain, David Johansen, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan in all of their platformed, spandexed, and roller-skated splendour, he not only questioned their sanity and sexuality, but mine as well.
Thirty years and three kids later, the state of my mental being is open for debate but one thing's for sure - the Dolls have been alternately iconized, lionized, and blamed for everything from punk rock to Hanoi Rocks, having displayed a hip sense of heroin chic and total indifference to the mechanics of the music business in the process..
Up to this point, other entries in the voluminous "20th Century Masters" series have anthologized everyone from Rare Earth to Hank Williams to Rainbow, with a few odd ducks like The Tubes and Oingo Boingo thrown in for good measure, all solid, workmanlike compendiums targeted at the casual fan who's only going to get one disc by a particular artist.
Taken at face value, this collection does a fair job of accomplishing what it sets out to do - show what the big fuss was all about in the span of 11 songs and 30-some-odd minutes. Although the band's first album, "New York Dolls," justifiably takes credit for being the groundbreaker it is, "Too Much Too Soon" may be more representative of their trainwreck approach to record making, Johansen braying over the din of Thunders' Chuck Berry-in-a-padded-cell leads and the unheralded but perfect drumming of Nolan, their R&B roots laid bare in covers of "Stranded In The Jungle," "Don't Start Me Talkin'," and "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown."
Track selection is evenly divided between each of the two albums and while part of me wants to piss and moan about what songs should have been included (I'd swap Thunders' sneering "Chatterbox" for strutting, no-big-deal "Lone Star Queen"), it's somehow oddly encouraging to see the boys getting shelf space somewhere between Madonna and Outkast. Besides, in addition to getting the tawdry piano that drives "Personality "Crisis" and Thunders' tortured backing vocals in "Trash" (perhaps their finest moment), the inclusion of their cover of Bo Diddley's "Pills," showcasing Johansen's honking harp work, the rest of the band chugging along behind him and sounding as if it could all fall apart at any moment, is worth celebrating.
A few years back, I had an epiphany, coming to the grudging conclusion that most of what the old man told me was basically true, but he couldn't have been further off the mark when it comes to the New York Dolls. At this juncture, showering them with praise has almost become a cottage industry, but whether looking for a kiss or lookin' fine on television, their twisted, tattered genius appears to be a given. - Clark Paull
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