Monday, April 10, 2006

Album review - The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia

Self obsessed women singing songs that are all about “me, Me, ME!” do not have a great track record. A flashback to the late nineties and the dreary lines of Alanis clones parading their neuroses through the medium of guitar and bloody awful lyrics still sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who actually likes music. Thank everything then for Amanda Palmer - singer of Boston piano and drums two-piece The Dresden Dolls, who gleefully breaks all stereotypes and has just presided over her second masterpiece.

The band’s 2004 self-titled debut is still a permanent fixture in our house. That was a crying, spitting, self mutilating, joyously over the top debut which sounded genuinely new. That album’s signature tune - ‘Girl Anachronism’ - set the stall out, with Amanda portraying herself as a whirlwind composite of every teenage girl’s most crazy moments - all set to what sounded like a Grand Piano falling down a lift shaft. ‘Yes, Virginia’ is a little more polished, slightly less over the top, yet is a more complete and satisfying album - the themes and ideas of their debut brought into full, glorious, widescreen Technicolor, complete with full supporting cast and dancing girls.

The DDs favourite themes are all here - Shagging, check. (Opener ‘Sex Changes’ gleefully lists the consequences of an imaginary off the shelf, well, sex change) Excess - Oh yes. (The AA in reverse show tune that is ‘My Alcoholic Friends’) And of course, an obsession with the sticky, gooey mess of surgery and bodily functions which sees ‘Mandy Goes To Med School’ (we mentioned self obsessed already didn't we?) practicing back street operations out of the back of an SUV, set to the filthiest bar-room piano you have ever heard.

Musically, the advances here are huge. If ‘The Dresden Dolls’ had basically two settings - in your face piano-punk-pop or dirgy self loathing – ‘Yes, Virginia’ feels like a Broadway musical - funny, sexy and massively charming. Yet it's the lyrics you'll remember. ‘My Alcoholic Friends’ celebrates drinking to ridiculous excess with the marvellous verse “I’m trying hard, not to be ashamed, not to know the name, of who, is waking up beside me, or the date, the season or the city, but, at least the ceiling’s very pretty…” Or how about the twistedly gynaecological “Put away those pliers honey, trust me cos I know the options, how about a nine month long vacation and a two foot coffin…?” from ‘Mandy Goes To Med School”.

The clincher though is the brilliant seven minute character study ‘Delilah’, in which Amanda lays into a hopeless friend for her total lack of sense when it comes to choosing men. As damning put-downs go, you’ll have to go a long way to beat “You’re an unrescuable schizo… or else you’re on the rag”, yet her final despair is summed up in the exasperatedly innocent, almost Enid Blyton-esque “You’re impossible, Delilah!”

Only once does the album really fail. ‘First Orgasm’ is simultaneously funny and unsettling - charting as it does a typical day chez Palmer. (Get up, have coffee, quick wank in the bay window). It's should be classic DD, yet the almost total lack of tune makes it an endurance test rather than the quick guilty pleasure it probably should be.

Ultimately – ‘Yes, Virginia’ is an absolute Marmite album - if you don't adore it, you will almost certainly find it insufferably smug, indulgent and annoying. But The Dresden Dolls should be treasured - a dramatic contrast to forgettable indie everywhere. God forbid they should ever become too successful - the idea of make-up caked, stocking clad imitators trying to match them is just horrible. But on this particular occasion, the pretentious art fags have scored a perfect ten. They come to these shores in May and you should make a point of catching them when they do.


Album Released April 17th on Roadrunner Records.


Blogger Martyn said...

Just been checking out your blog. Nice work ! Just confirms my suspicion that Northerners have all the best tunes ;-)

10:48 AM  
Blogger Martyn said...

Just been checking out your blog. Nice work ! Just confirms my suspicion that Northerners have all the best tunes ;-)

10:48 AM  

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