Sylvain Sylvain

(Sleep) Baby Doll

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Longtime fans of the New York Dolls realized that the band was more than just a vehicle for the Jagger/Richards, Steve Tyler/Joe Perry combo of David Johansen and Johnny Thunders. If they were the heart of that group, then Sylvain Sylvain was and is the soul. (Sleep) Baby Doll is an extraordinary work, and is as good if not better than the first two albums by the Dolls. It is certainly the most logical extension of that work from any solo Doll. "Paper, Pencil & Glue" opens the disc like a tornado, the way the Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper kicked off their '70s masterpieces with a killer tune. "Paper, Pencil & Glue" is as good a tune as "Brown Sugar" or "Under My Wheels," a riff-driven, hook-laden, kind of updated "Itchycoo Park" resplendent in phasing chorus and heavy instrumentation. Casey Dolan of 3 Day Wheely guests on lead guitar. This multi-dimensional album takes immediate chameleon-like turns from song to song. "Oh Honey"'s Bo Diddley riff melts into another driving pop song, "Hungry Girls," with its commercial slant (imagine a British '60s group speeding up the Velvet Underground's "Lady Godiva's Operation" while keeping it fun and radio-friendly). "I'm Your Man" takes things into another realm: garage rock. It's no coincidence that Fuzztone Rudi Protrudi makes a guest appearance on backup vocals. This is the kind of thing that drives them bonkers at the annual Cavestomp in New York. Sylvain puts on a balladic, almost country, face with his original "Another Heart Needs Mending"; Lenny Welch's "Since I Fell for You" goes the Stones (during the Mick Taylor period) route. Generation X's Bob "Derwood" Andrews is exquisite on the instrumental "Forgotten Panties," like one of those lost '60s 45s with no words, just a wonderful sound. It sets the listener up for a terrific rendition of the Dolls' classic "Trash," which Sylvain co-wrote with David Johansen. Given the band's raw intensity, Todd Rundgren had to tame the derailed train that was the early New York Dolls, a frightening concept for radio programmers at a time when Barry Manilow was beginning his ascent. This version, commercial in every way, might've given the Dolls that hit they needed had it been their debut 45. Sylvain's street-smart vocals are actually more AM/FM-friendly than Johansen's. "My Babe" sounds like John Lennon's studio diversions when he felt like having fun without record company restrictions. The celebrated "Frenchette" gets a reworking here, but the version of Johnny Thunders' "Your Society Makes Me Sad" brings this disc to a different level, a different space. Blondie guitarist Frankie Infante gives a Pretenders kind of feel to this dreamy statement. "It's on Fire" is another Johansen/Sylvain original, again changing style, a bopping blues that precedes the final track, a eulogy to the late members of the New York Dolls. It is dreamy, it is airy, it is eerie. Sylvain plays all the instruments with just Brian Keats' brushes and John Carlucci's bass keeping him company. It's a strange mixture of Rosie and the Originals' "Angel Baby" with Little Anthony & the Imperials' backing vocals straight from "Tears on My Pillow." And ripping those riffs seems very intentional. But in the ethereal mix, it doesn't matter. "Sleep Baby Doll" is a wild good-bye to the fallen comrades who rocked the music world and ushered in the new wave before the Sex Pistols. The New York Dolls were the real thing. Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, caught forever on tape from the back of Boston's K-K-Katy's club watching Sylvain and the boys on March 1, 1973, took note. When asked if the Dolls would sign to Rolling Stones Records, Tyler replied, "No." That night the New York Dolls blew the doors off a tiny club in Boston; 25 years later Sylvain Sylvain brought together all the elements of that group -- all its melody, all its promise -- and reworked the formula with a little help from a lot of friends. This record has been retitled Paper, Pencil & Glue and is now also on Munster Records. Find it. Seek it out on either label. It is a unique and wonderful experience, a textbook for aspiring musicians, a lesson for fly-by-night bands pawning themselves off as modern rockers. Sylvain Sylvain is a journeyman, and this album is a blast.

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