New York Dolls
Dancing Backward in High Heels
The New York Dolls took ’60s pop and trashed it up into a rowdy, world-changing slop that presaged punk and provided a guiding light for the glam-rockers that followed the band’s wake. After two classic albums, the band fizzled out in 1975, but the surviving three-fifths of the group reconvened in 2006 and did a surprisingly good job picking up where they left off. Dancing Backward in High Heels doesn’t.
The first of the reunion records was One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, which oozed with the much the same swagger, sensuality, and recklessness that catapulted the band’s 1973 debut, even if it did fall well short of that mark. Bassist Arthur Kane passed away shortly thereafter, but the remaining duo of singer/rabble-rouser David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain soldiered on and did as enviable a job on Cause I Sez So. On that album the reconfigured Dolls expanded its sonic palette, working reggae, ballads, and lounge-inflected songs into the mix. The duo works to continue that expansion on the newest album and falls flat in embarrassing fashion.
Dancing Backward sounds more like a Buster Poindexter album than a Dolls one. Poindexter was Johansen’s campy, pompadoured alter ego, and one of his ’80s singles, “Funky but Chic,” is reworked for this collection. Now, the Dolls have never lacked in humor or tongue-in-cheek qualities, but the lounge act and cruise ship fodder in this collection pushes the band into pure schmaltz. It doesn’t help that sometimes Johansen sounds like Bender from Futurama.
It’s not all bad, though it’s pretty close. With former David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick added to the fold, the band is smart to avoid attempts to replicate the late Johnny Thunders’ devil-may-care flare. With that in mind, “Talk to Me Baby” is as good as any track the band has written post-reunion. It sticks with an early R&B rhythm, hitting all the marks of everything the band has ever done well, but with a tasteful restraint that’s never before been a hallmark.
Too bad it’s prefaced by “I’m so Fabulous.” When Johansen sings “I’m more fab than all the hipsters on Broadway,” he sounds like a cynical grandpa who just can’t relate to what the kids are into these days. The only difference is this grandpa’s wearing heels and makeup.