New York Dolls – Dancing Backward In High Heels [Blast Records, 2011]

New York Dolls - Dancing backward in high heelsEven the most ardent New York Dolls fan probably expected little more than some rousing, rolling-back-the-years live shows when they reformed in 2004. Yet they have now produced three pretty tidy albums with two original members – one more than they did in their dysfunctional original incarnation.

Although both David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain are now the wrong side of 60, they remain in louche and lascivious form. Sylvain’s way with a shimmying Stones-y riff is regularly in evidence here, but your attention on the opening track, Streetcake, is initially grabbed by Johansen’s entertainingly barking lyrics. “Let me be your streetcake ‘til the breadman come,” he begs. “I’ll give you more sugar than the breadman done.”

The extended cuisine-related metaphor, always a potential minefield for any lyricist, is negotiated with the platform hobnail boots of a man who never cared too greatly for offending any laws of poetry. And helpfully, his intended is assured, “Ain’t gonna be Marie Antoinette. I love you better than that old baguette.” Well, it’s always a relief for any girl to know that a potential suitor bears no relation to a semi-mythical 18th century symbol of uncaring aristocratic decadence.

Like the best of rock’s older generations – Weller, Cave, Young, etc – they’re still creative because they still have axes to grind. Take I’m So Fabulous, in which our heroes sneeringly dismiss out-of-towners who try to bring their street-cleaning, smart-dressing ways to the Dolls’ beloved bohemia. It’s the kind of petty sentiment you would expect to hear from snotty teenagers. The glam-punk stomp of that number might be broadly what you’d expect, but elsewhere they diversify with equal élan.

The Spector-esque shimmy of I Sold My Soul to the Junkman rubs shoulders with the Stooges-try-soul sway of Kids Like You and the clap-along fifties strut of Round and Round She Goes. All the while, sax, harmonica and guitar compete to out-squawk and out-squeal each other on the breaks, yet Johansen still owns the joint thanks to the formidable battered charisma of his tobacco-scorched vocal cords.

All told, then, another quality release from perfect role models for the 21st century SAGA lout.

Johnny Sharp

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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