'Cause I Sez So

New York Dolls

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'Cause I Sez So Review

by Mark Deming

Five years into one of the most unlikely reunions in recent rock & roll history, the New York Dolls have begun to acknowledge the great paradox of the new edition of the band. If ever there was a band with a distinctive musical and emotional personality, it was the Dolls, but with only two members of the original lineup still alive and able to take the stage in 2009, David Johansen and Syl Sylvain have had a heavy burden to bear, trying to make music that feels and sounds like the New York Dolls without their iconic lead guitarist, their original rhythm section, and the sort of lifestyle that defined their world view when they were the edgiest band in America's toughest city. The new Dolls created a reasonable approximation of what their old sound would have been like had they all survived into the new millennium on 2006's One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, but 2009's 'Cause I Sez So suggests this band has little interest in living in the past, including their own. Todd Rundgren, who produced the Dolls' brilliant 1973 debut, was behind the controls for this set, and the first two songs, "'Cause I Sez So" and "Muddy Bones," conjure up the sloppy downtown energy of the Dolls Mk. 1 better than anything on One Day It Will Please Us, full of dirty guitars, crashing drums, and broadly strutting vocals from Johansen, complemented by Rundgren's roomy, natural-sounding production. But after that one-two punch, the album shifts gears, easing into a groove that's more easygoing and (gulp) mature than the classic Dolls assault, with a warmer and more subdued approach. "Lonely So Long" is a great pop tune with a faint resemblance to the Beatles, "Nobody Got No Bizness" is a high-spirited, hip-shaking R&B shuffle, "Temptation to Exist" is a melodramatic ballad that sounds like it could have fit onto one of Johansen's Buster Poindexter albums, "This Is Ridiculous" is a blues-influenced number that gives the singer plenty of room to showboat, and "Making Rain" edges uncomfortably into adult contemporary territory. As if to declare to anyone not paying attention that this isn't the Dolls as we remember them, there's a re-recording of "Trash" that puts a ganja-burnished reggae spin on the old proto-punk classic (possibly anticipating an adverse reaction from old fans, "Trash" is followed by "Exorcism of Despair," a chunky rocker very much in the traditional Dolls style). While the group as a whole sounds vital and in even better shape than they were on the fine One Day It Will Please Us, with its broad palate of musical influences and clear willingness to move past the constraints of the New York Dolls' legacy, 'Cause I Sez So is clearly David Johansen's album, and it's a great showcase for one of the great rock singers of his generation. But is it the New York Dolls? Well, that's what it says on the front cover, and if the sound is different, the "Whatsit to You?" spirit of this set is as keen as ever, and that counts for a lot with these guys.

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