New York Dolls – ‘Cause I Sez So (Rhino Entertainment) Keith Boyd 5.12.09
It’s been said in many different ways that there are no second acts in American life. So often the taint of scandal or changing tastes leave celebrities from any number of fields (music, film, politics, etc.) washed up on the shores of their broken egos nursing various addictions and schlepping themselves on reality TV. Thankfully there are exceptions to this scenario and such is the case with the New York Dolls. Formed in the creative melting pot ghetto of the early 1970’s New York music scene, The Dolls were a gleefully trashy lipstick smear on a drab time. They presided over the transition from the fading Flower Power era and stood in as transvestite prophets heralding the coming ground swell of Punk. Two amazing albums, a few tours, horrid mismanagement and a host of drug/alcohol problems later it was all gone. As their second album predicted it was “Too Much Too Soon” and the spinout was strange, lovely and sad. Johnny Thunders, after making his mark with a variety of Punk and 1950’s inspired combos died of a drug overdose. As evidenced in the amazing documentary “New York Doll” bassist Arthur Kane slowly descended into an alcoholic haze. First drummer Billy Murcia died early on of drug and alcohol related causes then second drummer Jerry Nolan died of a stroke. This left only Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen who carried on through out the next two decades in a variety of ways. Johansen’s post-Dolls career has been a testament to the deep reservoirs of creative energy the man possesses. From his prescient lounge/cabaret act, Buster Poindexter to his wonderful folk/blues work with his band The Harry Smiths David Johansen has remained active, vital and productive. Sylvain Sylvain played with his group The Criminals as well as in various lineups with David Johansen through the years.
The rebirth of The Dolls came about from two sources. One was the documentary mentioned above. The other was a request from uber-fan Morrissey that they reunite to play at the “All Tomorrow’s Parties” festival in England. Feedback from these shows resulted in the wonderful “One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This” and now has generated the even more amazing and varied, “’Cause I Sez So”.
Working once again with producer/maestro Todd Rundgren (who produced their 1972 debut), The Dolls have delivered an incredible album that packs the punch of their signature sound while pushing forward into new sonic territory. The album starts with the one-two punch of “’Cause I Sez So” and “Muddy Bone”. These tracks are rollicking riff driven rockers dripping with attitude and choruses reminiscent of the toughest 1960’s Girl Group songs. After this rip-roaring intro we start swerving in a variety of directions. There are sober Folk/Blues tracks (This is Ridiculous), Pouting ballads (Temptation To Exist and Making Rain) and a daring Reggae-fied remake of their anthem, “Trash”. Although this last track is bound to generate controversy amongst purists it’s actually done with such a heartfelt and authentic touch that it succeeds in reframing the song and casting it in a new light.
It’s such a pleasure to live in a world with a touring and new music making New York Dolls. Their tawdry panache and winking glamour are still in evidence but have been tempered a bit by a mastery acquired through hard won experience. They add color and life to a music scene dominated by the interchangeable minions of commerce. This is one second act that all music fans should be thankful for and celebrate.