Dancing Backward in High Heels

New York Dolls

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Dancing Backward in High Heels Review

by Mark Deming

On their third studio album since reuniting the New York Dolls in 2004, David Johansen and Syl Sylvain have finally begun acknowledging the obvious -- this is not the same band that traipsed in and burned out in a blaze of glory in the '70s. Not only are Johansen and Sylvain the only survivors from the band's original lineup, their efforts to re-create the band's original sound and impact have been well-meaning and entertaining without making much of an mark. 2009's ‘Cause I Sez So found them drifting away from the classic sound of the Dolls, and 2011's Dancing Backward in High Heels in many respects represents a clean break; Steve Conte, who took on the Johnny Thunders role in the reunited band, is gone, and with Frank Infante of Blondie in his place, on these sessions the guitar plays a lesser role in the arrangements, with keyboards and sax dominating many of the tunes. And while this album doesn't entirely abandon the Dolls as we knew them, it recalls the original group's influences, rather than the Dolls themselves, most notably classic ‘60s rock, girl group sounds, and vintage R&B rather than the beautifully shambolic hard rock of their salad days. So Dancing Backward in High Heels isn't the New York Dolls as we once knew them, though it does sound very much like the work of David Johansen and Syl Sylvain, two guys close to 60 years of age who clearly still love rock & roll but have a different attitude about it than they did in 1972. The witty attack on out of towners in the Big Apple of "I'm so Fabulous" rings true coming from these guys, the night-life tales of "Round and Round She Goes" suggest they're still up for a rowdy good time, "Streetcake" and "You Don't Have to Cry" confirm David and Syl haven't forgotten how to write a great pop tune, and the cover of "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" is heartfelt and funny, just as it should be. And if "Funky But Chic" was reworked from Johansen's first solo album, the cocky strut and swagger of the tune still sounds fresh and engaging in the 21st century. While the New York Dolls struggled to balance past and present on their previous reunion albums, Dancing Backward in High Heels is a product of the here and now as defined by two guys following their muse in their own way, which is just what they should be doing at this stage of the game.

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