The New York Dolls | Dancing Backwards in High Heels (429 Records)

It’s clear that Johansen and the gang are thrilling us with the same music that thrilled them so many years before.




Ever since The Dolls shook off the ashes of the ‘70s and reunited under the guiding hand of Morrissey, fans and critics have debated whether or not vocalist David Johansen and guitarist Sylvan Sylvain are truly making music worthy of the Dolls legend. Some say the group should have died and stayed dead after their drug-fueled implosion in ’75, while others are simply happy to have them back making new music in the 21st century. On their latest album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, the New York Dolls may very well have made a record that will satisfy fans in both camps; in fact, it may be their most honest and personal work to date.

You can hear it from the opening cut, “I’m a Fool for You Baby,” an instant Wayback Machine kick to the ‘60s when girl groups like the Shangri-Las were charming the future Dolls members (and most of America) with their sweet and sexy sounds. In the past, David Johnansen’s throaty rasp would sound like it was floating above the music, somehow existing just outside of it. On Dancing Backwards, he’s not only leading the party, he’s down on the dance floor with the rest of the rowdies. The beat goes on in the Phil Spector-kissed “Streetcake,” where Johansen name checks everyone from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to Marie Antoinette and cellist Pablo Casals, perfectly illustrating the melding of culture and camp that the Dolls have always employed.

On “I’m So Fabulous,” the Dolls bring out the saxophones and old-school NYC-punk attitude, and they deliver a T-Rex inspired bump-and-grind come-on with “Talk To Me Baby.”

The mournful and melancholy “Kids Like You” offers up a slow-jam meditation from a wizened old punk to the piss-and-vinegar hooligans breathing down his neck, while the hooky rave-up “Round and Round She Goes” should be on anyone’s playlist for heading out on a Saturday night.

It’s not until the midway point of Dancing Backwards that you’ll realize the guitars are taking a back seat this time around. To be sure, this isn’t a hard-rock record, but it absolutely rocks. When the doo-wop and girl group influences rear their pompadour’ed and bouffanted heads on the Dolls’ cover of the 1962 hit single “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,” it’s clear that Johansen and the gang are thrilling us with the same music that thrilled them so many years before. The enthusiasm is infectious, and the band’s sheer joy is laced throughout their performances here.

The Philly-soul of “Funky But Chic” not only shows off new-generation drummer Brian Delaney’s penchant for just the right groove, but also provides the album with a climax that is as exciting as it is deserving. As the disc finds its way back home with the reggae lilt of “End of the Summer,” you’ll take away one of two things: either you’ll want to hear the Dolls mine their collective musical memories for another record, or you’ll find it a fitting last hurrah. Either way, you win.

Half musical statement, half firm separation from their status as one of the most famous unknown bands in rock and roll, Dancing Backwards in High Heels makes the comeback complete. A | Jim Ousley





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