When I first read about Morrissey's drive to push the extant members of seminal rock band The New York Dolls into reuniting, I wasn't all that optimistic about the probable results. As a general rule, rock band revivals have been dismal affairs (pick your least fave Sex Pistols reunion for a quick 'n' dirty example), and besides, how many living members of the original Dolls are there? Big noise guitarman Johnny Thunders passed into Heroin Heaven years ago; Mormon bassist Arthur Kane has more recently died. That left… what? Frontman David Johansen and second string guitarist Syl Sylvain? Color me doubtful.
When I finally came across the revamped unit's first studio release, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (Roadrunner), the fanboy in me quickly nudged those doubts aside, though. I've been an avid follower of David Jo's solo work – even have a copy of that Latin rhythms disc he released in his Buster Poindexter persona – so there ultimately was no way I was gonna resist a new disc with his singing and songwriting all over it. May not be a for-real New York Dolls album, but it could be a decent Johansen – and that can be plenty funky/chic on its own.
One week after telling my cynical self to shut up, I've happily embraced the New New York Dolls. From One Day's bellowy opening track ("We're All in Love"), it's clear this version of the Dolls isn't as enjoyably assaultive as the original model – lead guitarist Steve Conte just ain't as bracingly cacophonous as the late Johnny T. – but the group is a full-bodied unit, not just David Jo and a bunch of back-up musicians. Befitting their frontman's role as a sometime singer of trad blues with the Harry Smiths, the new disc has a more up front emphasis on Stones-y blues growl, though Johansen's near all-encompassing love for old rock 'n' roll trickery pops up, too (the speedy sock hop rhythms to "Rainbow Store," the Bo Diddley beat on "Dance Like A Monkey," even the swatch of Harvest honed harmonica in "I Ain't Got Nothing").
A few of the slower tracks ("Plenty of Music," "Dancing on The Edge of A Volcano") sound like they could've appeared on an '80s solo Johansen disc, though then you wouldn't have gotten a Michael Stipe singing back-up to "Volcano," of course. (Nothing wrong with using your elder statesman status to pull in younger admirers like Stipe – or punk folkie Tom Gabel – for a track or two.) To show they haven't just been sittin' around playing their old 45s, David Jo and Syl (responsible for much of the disc's music) even toss a slice of Ramones-ness into "Gotta Get Away from Tommy." Lyrically, the songs reflect Johansen's usual concerns – heart-felt paeans to trashy street life, riffs on being broke and horny, melancholy love songs – though the filter we hear 'em through is thirty years older than the jet boys of old. Now, when our head Doll tells his audience to dance, it's more cajoling than the shrieking entreaties of old.
The whole thing sounds way better than any of us had a right to expect. Makes you wonder. If the Stones, say, had taken a twenty-plus hiatus after releasing Some Girls, could they have returned with an album as tuff as this? Probably not. One Day may not be the groundbreaker that the original New York Dolls was – how could it be? – but it still beats the snot out of much of what passes for rock these days.
Turning out to be a damn fine year for us rockin' geezers…