Album Reviews

New York Dolls – Cause I Sez So

(Rhino) UK release date: 4 May 2009

Heralded as the catalysts for punk and glam-rock, the New York Dolls disappeared almost as soon as their two classic albums, New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon, made their mark in the early ’70s.

Cause I Sez So is the second album of their unlikely re-birth, although it’s anyone’s guess if we’ll see another release anytime soon. Taking into account the near three-decade lay off between their heyday and their present revival, you might be fooled into thinking this might be a world-weary album, but it soon becomes clear that this band of dolls are still a playful old bunch.

In an attempt to resuscitate the original magic, the band rehired debut album producer, Todd Rundgren. True to form, the New Yorkers are as rebellious and non-conformist as ever, and it appears the years have been rolled back. The album’s opening double salvo (Cause I Sez So, Muddy Bones) combines sarcastic passing shots with elongated guitar solos and illustrates the band’s refusal to grow old. While evergreens such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan may come over a little pickled to the younger generation, the New York Dolls are still flying a rather youthful flag.

But that’s only half the story. After its initial zestful burst, Cause I Sez So soon settles into a format a little more in keeping with the band’s, shall we say, more advanced years. It is obvious the Rolling Stones have been used as a jelly mould. Like those other stalwarts, still plying their trade far beyond expectancy, the New York Dolls are better when the pace drops off, with the band left to piece together memories of a chaotic past.

The pleasant surf-rock of Better Than and Lonely Song will certainly prick up the ears of Messrs Wilson and Petty and should provide the album with radio-friendly singles. Other highlights include the bluesy This Is Ridiculous, which acts as a self-referential window into the lives of professional rebels and everything that involves: lost love, lost money and drug misadventure being high on a predictable but not uninteresting list. Platitudes aside, this band’s unique vantage point offers something the young upstarts simply can’t.

Cause I Sez So’s recollective narrative is aided by its musical deviation, which maintains interest throughout. Whether it’s Temptation To Exist’s Spaghetti Western Americana or the (not as bad as it sounds) reggae reissue of Trash, Cause I Sez So, like the career of this ageless band, keeps you guessing. Most of the album’s melodies are effective and lyrically, the album has enough balls and venerable charm to compete with today’s young and beautiful pretenders.

The throaty drawl of David Johansen helps in this regard. At times he has the give-a-fuck snarl of Bobby Gillespie, and at others the gruff optimism of the Hold Steady‘s Craig Finn. The album’s poignant highlight, Making Rain, exhibits the same pent-up emotion as Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler.

Maybe it’s because this is only New York Dolls’ fourth studio album in 30 years, but this album is better than it ever ought to be. Even if the strut is more tentative and the recollections come with a twinge of regret, Cause I Sez So is certainly one for the ages.

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More on New York Dolls
New York Dolls @ Old Vic Tunnels, London
New York Dolls – Cause I Sez So
New York Dolls – One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This