New York Dolls – Cause I Sez So
Record Label: Rhino
Release Date: May 5, 2009
While we are probably never going to forgive New York Dolls vocalist David Johansen for his Buster Poindexter alias (and his infectiously 80’s dance single “Hot Hot Hot”), he’s given us a few reason to consider it. Reason #1: The reformed New York Dolls’ live reunion album in 2004 – 3/5 of the group bringing the house down like 30 years hadn’t just passed. Reason #2: The excellent studio album One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This – a disc so fresh it sounds less like a come-back disc and more like a debut. And then there’s Reason #3, which is: This.
Let me first clarify that New York Dolls was untouchable. There’s no revisiting that landmark peak, one of the best albums ever made by anybody. But the Dolls don’t even really try. Without legendary guitarist Johnny Thunder, who died 1991, there’s no sense in aping that old familiar style as perfected in the 70’s. Instead they go for a less classic, less proto, more standard rock approach; still plenty of Rolling Stones influence, but without so much frenetic teen energy.
I don’t mean to make the album sound dry – sometimes straightforward rock really can rock. You don’t need to reinvent the genre every time you make a record; otherwise how do the Drive-By Truckers sell records? It’s about doing what you do, and doing it well; it’s about adopting the right influences. “Making Rain” is like the Dolls’ take on the Who, with Johansen providing the roll of a more sloshed Roger Daltrey. But you can’t overlook a pretty strong element of Randy Newman in the vocals. That could have been the least cool thing ever written, but it’s true, and it works for him. You’re just going to have to trust me.
“This is Ridiculous”, which may be my favorite song on the album, blends that Randy Newman touch with more than a little bit of Tom Waits. As a rule of thumb, if I can picture skeletons dancing to a song, then it’s a good song (it’s hard to explain.) And I’m pretty sure the lyric “Can’t make a dime off these mother-jumpers! / Ridiculous!” must be paying tribute to Little Steven (Silvio Dante in the Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt in Bruce’s E Street Band.)
If you’re worried about the guys having gotten old, you can put that thought to bed, because the blues workout “Nobody Got No Bizness” alone shows enough cool to knock your temperature down a few notches. From Johansen’s Joe Strummer-esque spoken word intro to lines like “If we don’t come back, just call us on the Ouija board!”, it’s a “Chicago-style” number that exudes a whole lotta laid back, like a garage session with old buddies.
The only real stab at cheap nostalgia comes in the group’s cover of their own hit “Trash” from the debut, but this version is absolutely nothing like the original. In fact, if you hadn’t recognized the lyrics, you might not have even noticed it was a redo. I think the new reworked tune would have fit better into a live recording than on the backside of an album where it gives off the vibe of needed-additional-track, and the tired “Baby, how do you call your lover boy?” is almost like a parody of Johansen’s ecstatic shriek on the 1973 version. This new context – it’s a reggae tune with a few dub touches near the end – might be a bit too mellow, but it’s saved by the closer, “Exorcism of Despair”, which follows. By that title, how could it not totally rule?
For the most part, here’s a couple of guys augmenting a tried-and-true formula decades into the game, following some detours and taking risks. They’re no AC/DC, man - they’re doing something different. And while you gotta respect David Johansen for his various, ambitious solo projects, this is where he belongs.
Great review! So glad to see it getting a review on the site. I can't wait to hear the album. I only got into the band when Steve Conte was tapped to replace Johnny Thunder when the band reformed (I'm a big fan of Conte's past bands), but i got into the original records but ended up liking "One Day It Will Please Us..." even more than any of the other albums. I hope more people start giving the new band a chance, I think they're really great. I am, like most people, not happy about the addition of a redo of "Trash."