Friday, November 4, 2011

The New York Dolls - Too Much Too Soon (1974)

The New York Dolls precocious first album justifiably gets all the credit as the groundbreaker, but their second (and officially last) album Too Much Too Soon, might be a truer picture of an oft-misunderstood band.

For one thing, the deep rhythm'n'blues roots of the Dolls are laid bare here in the covers of "Don't Start Me Talkin'", "(There's Gonna Be a) Showdown", and "Stranded in the Jungle". That love of old Stax/Volt r'n'b suggests that maybe the Dolls weren't so much a second generation threat to the status quo of the industry as just a good ol' hormone 'n' drug-fueled white boy version of Wilson Pickett.

The r'n'b roots also offer evidence of what a great band they were. The covers didn't come across as bar band bland, nor did they sound like overly reverent studies in musical theory. Instead, the Dolls made them their own, rebuilt them from the ground up starting with the drumming perfection of Jerry Nolan and the guitar and bass rhythm section of Sylvain Sylvain and Arther Kane, respectively.  The icing on the cake was the lead guitar insanity of Johnny Thunders, whose guitar tone alone launched a thousand punk bands.

And while among the original songs here there may be nothing as immediately striking as the debut's "Personality Crisis",  there's still no way to discount a song like Thunders' "Chatterbox" as anything other than classic. As well, in "Human Being" the Dolls muster up a genuine anthem, an apology for weakness of character that is belied by David Johansen's sneering, insolent vocals and by the frenzied stomp of the band. It's five minutes of glorious rock'n'roll transcendence, bolstered by their utter belief in the power of the music and proof positive that, while the Dolls may say they're sorry for their sins, they sure as hell don't mean it.

Which is, in other words, as perfect an encapsulation of rock 'n' roll attitude as you'll ever find.

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