Release Date: July 2006
In the beginning, Punk rock came from a warped interpretation of the New York Dolls, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Punk crashed onto the scene in the early 1970s in the form of the Sex Pistols, led by a far-sighted fashion designer/band manager by the name of Malcolm McLaren. McLaren’s boys carried the banner for his London clothes shop, hastily renamed Sex when he conceived of the new designs that would characterize Punks from the seventies onward, involving ripped t-shirts and metal pins. The Sex Pistols did everything by McLaren’s book: insult the Queen, swear on national TV, and promote anarchy with their first tour. McLaren’s greatest achievement was to spread the belief that Punk came from poor neighbourhoods and the neglected citizens of the UK like a long-silenced cry of anguish and despair. Without this sense of camaraderie among musical appreciates in those first crucial years in the life of Punk, who can say whether the trend would have lasted so long? Who knows if it would have influenced the lives and thought processes of so many people?
When I think of the New York Dolls, I think of this twisted musical history. The Dolls have long been heralded as punk’s inspiration, in a genre all of their own termed Proto-punk. The strange thing is, bands like Guttermouth and NOFX are apparently the products of the New York Dolls and their musical offspring. As Proto-punk musicians, it follows logically that the Dolls would eventually evolve into their own real Punk sound. This is not the case. I am both surprised and disappointed to discover that “One day it will please us to remember even this” really sounds an awful lot like the Rolling Stones. I am not the biggest fan of the Stones. As such, you can probably guess my feeling about the album.
The tracks are more glam-rock than anything I would liken to early Clash or Sex Pistols records. The sound strikes me as harsh and spiritless. I’m left wondering how great bands like Pennywise and Bad Religion, and more to the point, the Sex Pistols, could have found their roots in this sound. When I think about it, though, I can see that the sound really had very little to do with it. Punk as we know it was borne of the attitude of the New York Dolls and not the music.
The band formed, reached a peak and broke up all in the span of the seventies. But, two original band members and four others reformed the successful Dolls group in 2004 not long before releasing The Return of the New York Dolls and Someday earlier this year. What is clear from the old and new records is that the band was never concerned about conforming to standardized music. They wore women’s clothing, produced less-than-perfect guitar riffs and vocals, and had fun onstage. When Malcolm McLaren intervened near the end of the early Dolls’ careers, he found a group that was very willing to try new styles and present an unorthodox take on music. McClaren’s advice didn’t manage to lift the Dolls to great new heights, but it was working for them that the designer realized what he could achieve with that kind of medium. In the blink of an eye, we were presented with the Sex Pistols in all their anarchic glory, seamlessly produced by McClaren.
So the Dolls’ album is certainly not the classic Punk I was expecting to hear, nor would I classify it as Proto-punk if judging solely by the sound. This stuff is, however, truly the estranged cousin of the Sex Pistols and modern Punk, and for that I am grateful. The songs don’t appeal to me. I found the music both grating and bland, and the vocals of David Johansen could stand to be turned down a notch or two without offending anyone. Strangely, this is an historic band with a great claim on an entire music genre that they aren’t even a part of, technically speaking. The album is no great thing, and in this case, I think the Dolls are one of those groups that should be admired from afar.