New York Dolls - Dancing Backward in High Heels
There may be something incongruous about a new album from the sultans of sleaze, the New York Dolls, but Dancing Backwards in High Heels has a verve that makes it a welcome relief in what can sometimes be a rather po-faced industry. Frontman David Johansen may now be in his sixties, but with age comes the knowledge that a wink is as good as a nod, and the result that this (only their fifth studio effort in a forty year career) retains a swagger without ever being cheesy or awkward. This success comes from the fact that original members Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain (and now joined by Blondie guitarist Frank Infante) don't attempt to re-hash former glories; instead they choose to mine their roots in 50s pop and doo-wop, with the Latin lounge of opener 'Streetcake', a good indication of what's in store over the next 40 minutes or so.
Johansen's legendary sense of confidence re-emerges on the saxophone driven 'I'm So Fabulous' ("I'm more fab than all the hipsters on Broadway") but he's still a (street level) romantic at heart, exemplified by album highlight 'Fool For You Baby', an atmospheric but criminally short finger-clicker that fades out with some wonderfully evocative piano that just reeks New York. In fact, one of the album's real strengths is Jason Hill's production, spare but with a real sense of the band's heritage - despite the fact the band decamped to the less-than-rock-'n'-roll surroundings of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for the recording.
The Stones-y ballad of 'You Don't Have to Cry' leads into the amusingly cheery confessional, 'I Sold My Heart to the Junkman' which is again rather too short, its high school musical vibe just beginning to get under your skin before an early fade stops the fun. Thankfully, the hot weather strut of 'Funky But Chic' soon comes around to get the party started once again ("Mama thinks I look fruity but in jeans I feel rockin'!") with the light reggae of 'End of the Summer' bringing things to a mellow end.
The studio album comes with a DVD featuring footage of the band during the recording session and live material of their residency at The Cluny in Newcastle last September. Overall, this is a much more entertaining, and genuinely worthwhile, effort than we have any right to expect from a band of this heritage.