Music Reviews

posted: April 28, 2009

The New York Dolls 'Cause I Sez So

Atco CD, LP
The New York Dolls

“Tried to bum a cigarette/Nobody smokes no more” laments David Johansen on the ragged “Lonely So Long,” singing like a street-corner soul crooner down in a Brooklyn subway station. For the New York Dolls frontman, the line is telling: Yes, times have indeed changed since the influential band broke down stylistic borders back in the early 70s. And on much of ‘Cause I Sez So, the glam legends seem out of date and without an identity. Circumstances suggest that it would’ve been difficult to have believed otherwise even though this is Johansen and company’s second record since their 2004 reunion.

On occasion, the Dolls-down to two original members, Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain-prove capable of mustering the dirty, trashy sounds for which they were famously known. The album-opening title track is a scruffy, hair-of-the-dog piece of garage rock that constantly threatens to fall apart at the seams, Johansen sneering words as if he were still a 22-year-old brat prancing around in lipstick, scarves, and women’s clothes. Similarly, “Muddy Bones” is all swagger and stagger, Johansen mouthing lyrics with his trademark boozy accent.  Humorous and indignant, the bluesy “This Is Ridiculous” comes across like a jukebox cut that plays during last call at a 4 A.M. bar.

Yet the modern Dolls lack the punch, extravagance, and verve of the dysfunctional original lineup. A majority of songs on ‘Cause I Sez So have bland acoustic foundations and a softness that one would expect from an aging folk act.  Producer Todd Rundgren, who helmed the controls of the band’s groundbreaking debut, should have known better. That said, a few of the mellow tunes may have worked if not for cringe-worthy lyrics such as “Got to be my world/You’re beautiful/So beautiful/It’s gotta be my world” (from “My World”).  Is this James Blunt or the Dolls? Worse, Johansen begins “Nobody Got No Bizness” by stating “Hi everybody, I’m David Jo & the Dolls. We’re from New York City. And we like our Philly soul Chicago-style. Check it out.” Ugh. The New York Dolls don’t need an introduction, particularly one so amateurish.

The group tries to redeem the flaws on the closing “Exorcism of Despair,” a disheveled mess of rough tones, broken chords, and imperfect notes that will have listeners wondering why all of the material doesn’t flail about with such wild abandon. Then again, diehards might not be able to even forgive the Dolls for remaking their classic punk-fueled “Trash” into a reggae-tinted ballad that just makes the band sound old. After hearing it, you’ll just want to blare the 1973 original. And that’s an idea the Dolls might want to consider pursuing themselves.

–Bob Gendron