New York Dolls – In Too Much Too Soon
New York Dolls are what you would get if a band from the late ‘50s was suddenly transported to the early ‘70s, took a look around and decided, “We can work with this”.
I liked their previous album, but it took time for me to warm to it. This one grabbed me right away. It has a cleaner sound, more accessible, but still frenetic. Initially a punked up version of glam, while the punks got dirtier as the ‘70s progressed, the Dolls were getting cleaned up, even looking like a more traditional rock band. There’s a strong rockabilly feel to some of their songs (the American parts of “Stranded in the Jungle”, “Bad Detective” – and, yes, these are very racially problematic tunes), lots of harmonica (with a nice solo in “Don’t Start Me Talking”), and backing vocals out of another time (“Bad Detective” again). They are a band with one foot stuck firmly in the past, and my two favourite tracks reflect this. “Who Are the Mystery Girls?”, with handclaps and those nostalgia inducing backing singers, has the feel of an old fashioned pop song about love and romance (though it’s not clear what they’re actually singing about). And for all the grinding guitars of “(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown”, the song could soundtrack Paul LeMat versus Harrison Ford.
At times it feels like a great dance record, with lots of toe tappers, and it’s legitimate to wonder if it’s too poppy to still be punk. David Johansen is a playful frontman, with a sort of yelly singing style in which he over pronounces while slurring at the same time. It comes across as very mannered – Jaggeresque without Mick’s soulfulness. They try hard, from the dirtied up blues riff that opens “Babylon” to the muffled guitars on the closing tracks, but it feels like they never completely let their guard down and just play – they want so badly to be genuine punks, but they’re just a little too talented to go that route. “Human Being” might have the least grit of any gritty song I’ve ever heard, and it’s the closest they get to being unrestrained and messy, in the best way.
I get why a lot of people – including some of the band, apparently – prefer this record to the first. I like the DIY feel of their debut (despite the aid of the estimable Todd Rundgren), which gives it an energy that this one doesn’t have. But as follow ups go, there may not be many better.