The New York Dolls' new album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, comes out today, June 7. As one of the most influential acts in the punk and glam rock genres, the New York Dolls' body of work mostly consists of gritty garage rock and glam punk songs -- you know, the types of tunes you could listen to while either applying lipstick, slam dancing, or both.
For anyone familiar with the Dolls, Dancing Backward in High Heels will surprise them. It's not what one would expect from the same band that pioneered east coast glam, punk, and New Wave. This album is a big departure from most of their previous albums. It consists entirely of '50s bomp, '60s pop, and '70s Motown-type tunes, with some dark folk sounds thrown in.
The album opens with "Fool for You Baby," a song with no audible guitars but heavy on keyboards. It fades out before it feels like the song's finished. The sonic stretching goes further in the second track, "Streetcake," which sounds like a jangly '60s pop number (complete with breathy background vocals and a piano solo). Maybe singer David Johansen's not being ironic when he gruffly croons, "Give you more sugar than the bread man does."
Each track is pretty thin on guitars, and there's nary an ax solo to be found. The most audible six strings appear on "Talk to Me Baby," in the form of thick, fuzzy chords and a driving bridge (pumped up by a hand-clapping beat). It's one of the better songs on the record.
While a few tracks stand out, there are more than a few sonic face-plants on Dancing Backward. "Kids Like You" is probably the worst track on the album, and one of a handful that directs ire at young hipsters trying to make the scene ("Fabulous Rant" is just that - a vocal rant about the aforementioned subject). But "Kids" comes off like a lurching, disjointed dirge, full of sloppy and slow distorted guitars and lazy, drawling organ and keyboards.
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"Round and Round She Goes" has the same rhythm as The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love," and it's not the only nod to Motown here. There's also "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," which sounds straight out of Barry Gordy's head, despite its tongue-in-cheek lyrics about drug use.
The winners on Dancing Backward include "Funky But Chic," which employs a disco beat and a throbbing, funky bass line. It sounds more like a solo song from Buster Poindexter (whom Johansen performed as in the '80s) than a Dolls song. There's also "You Don't Have to Cry," which -- while being a bizarre sound for the Dolls -- somehow works. It's an acoustic, hippie folk song rendered more palatable by symphonic strings and a soft snare marching beat.
Still, by the time I got to the last song -- the dreamy, easy listening track "End of the Summer" -- I started to wonder if I was listening to the New York Dolls, or the latest offering from Seals and Crofts.