MUSIC REVIEW: New York Dolls
"There are no second acts in American lives"? Well, if F. Scott Fitzgerald were alive today, he might just reconsider those words after hearing the New York Dolls' new album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (Roadrunner; Music ••••, Sound ••••) - especially given the ease with which singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain raucously pick up where they left off on their last album, Too Much Too Soon, made in ... oh, 1974.
Back then, of course, the Dolls were pop's enfants terribles: cross-dressing glam-rockers whose cacophonous songs and brash attitude flew in the face of everything that at the time was deemed "good" music. Critically acclaimed but commercially ignored, the original band had already self-destructed and broken up by 1975. And though they became influential heroes to punks on both sides of the Atlantic, only Johansen would achieve much success individually (via his un-Dollsy alter ego, Buster Poindexter).
Anything resembling a meaningful reunion had long seemed unlikely, what with lead guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan both dead since the early 1990s and bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane working in a Mormon library in L.A. and out of music entirely. But the onetime president of the band's British fan club - none other than Morrissey - got the three surviving Dolls to play at his 2004 Meltdown festival. In the end, the reunion proved bittersweet when, just weeks after their triumphant appearance at London's Royal Albert Hall, Kane suddenly took ill and passed away.
Kane's astonishing personal journey is told in the moving and often quite funny documentary New York Doll: The Movie (First Independent/Visual; Movie •••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras •••). It details his religion-aided path back from a drugs-and-depression brink and the fulfillment of his never-ending dream to reconnect with his old band. There's great archival Dolls footage, and the extras include interviews with Morrissey and director Greg Whiteley.
Clearly inspired by the reception in England (and also as a tribute to Kane), Johansen and Sylvain decided to keep the Dolls flame rekindled. Judging from their new album, it's now officially blazing. With a supporting cast including Hanoi Rocks bassist Sam Yaffa and suitably Thundering guitarist Steve Conte - and with gritty production by Jack Douglas (engineer of the Dolls' 1973 debut) - One Day is no mere trip down a glittery memory lane. Centerpieced by the infectious, everybody-into-the-gene-pool "Dance Like a Monkey," the stomping "Punishing World," and the lusty "Runnin' Around," the album wears its street-smart heart on its sleeve with typical New Yawk pride and pugnacity.
In the words of the pile-driving "We're All in Love," the New York Dolls were once "excommunicated, then canonized." Three decades on, they're still looking for a kiss. In any kind of just world, they may finally find it.