The Good: Great lyrics, Interesting music, Good vocals
The Bad: Duration, Instrumentally repetitive.
The Basics: Filled with angst and powerful, emotive vocals, The Dresden Dolls delivers a series of original cabaret songs that sound more like each other than anything else.
There is something downright hilarious to me about my wife's reactions to her music. As I await the arrival of more Red Hot Chili Peppers albums (By The Way is reviewed here!), I have taken to listening to whatever my wife has around. Her reactions tend to be one of two things: she either laments that I don't like any of her music or she rolls her eyes and notes, "That's the song by X that EVERYONE likes." She always sounds more disappointed when she delivers the second line as opposed to the first. Go figure.
I mention this from the outset of my review of The Dresden Dolls because I enjoyed "Coin-Operated Boy" most - which earned me the eye roll and catchphrase - when I think she was hoping I've love the chaotic "Girl Anachronism" which was too cacophonic for me. Perhaps I would have liked "Girl Anachronism" more if it weren't followed by the equally pounding and loud "Miss Me." My wife is into The Dresden Dolls and cabaret music and until now, I have not known so much of either, though I have reviewed Yes, Virginia (that's here!). The Dresden Dolls provides a nonthreatening, yet edgy, introduction to those of us ignorant to the genre.
With a dozen songs occupying 56:48, The Dresden Dolls is very much the unique work of the band's members, Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione. Palmer wrote and composed all of the songs and she and Viglione play the pianos and percussion that dominate the album. Palmer provides lead vocals on all of the songs. As well, The Dresden Dolls are credited as co-producers on the album. In other words, this is very much their musical vision. But what that musical vision is is both original and tedious. Compared to most albums, The Dresden Dolls is fairly original; within the album, there is a strong sense of repetition and a very limited sound.
On its own, any individual song by The Dresden Dolls might be wonderful, especially for those addicted to any specific genre, but especially pop-rock. The Dresden Dolls perform each of their songs on the piano with drums (or other percussion) as their primary instrumentation. They sing songs that tell stories in a style reminiscent of lounges or cabarets (think Chicago) of the 1920s through 40s. Thematically, they are adult and edgy with a sense of humor designed to titillate or intrigue. As a result, most of the songs feature vocal performances that are clear and emotive, though they are often sung with a strong sense of irony.
Actually, what dominates The Dresden Dolls is a sense of anger. Most of the songs contain Palmer singing her lyrics in a wail that is forceful and contains an overt anger and an undertone of serious hurt. This is not limited to the song about underage sex gone wrong ("Missed Me") but it continues on tracks like "The Perfect Fit." And while Palmer sings clearly even through her anger on songs like "The Jeep Song" (another catchy melody which earned me an eye-roll from my partner), songs like "Girl Anachronism" are just noisy.
The thing about listening to an album that does not sound quite like anyone else is that it is hard to describe. Most of the songs on The Dresden Dolls fall into that category. "Girl Anachronism," for example, features Palmer pounding on her piano keys with a fury that is unmatched in standard pop rock and she yells out her lines in tones bordering on amelodic (I've listened to the album a dozen times now and I still couldn't tell you the tune to that song). Conversely, "Coin-Operated Boy" sounds like a traditional Cabaret sound featuring dramatic, dancable swells at the piano and in the vocals. The singsong melody and rhythm sounds very vaudeville and it is intended to. There are a few works on the album that sound derivative of their contemporaries. For example, the piano work and vocals at the beginning of "Slide" sound almost exactly like the opening to "My Immortal" by Evanescence. Similarly, "Truce" begins with the tune to "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."
What effectively separates The Dresden Dolls from everyone else are the band's lyrics. The Dresden Dolls might perform with a drunken sailor sound, but they do have something to say. Who else uses clips that sound like they are from Judge Judy (the end of "Truce," though no credit is given for the clip)? Who else sings of a spiteful underage girl turning in her lover when she discovers he has been cheating on her ("Missed You")? Who else sings of making the ideal man from scratch ("Coin-Operated Boy")?
The Dresden Dolls are quite original on this album. For example, they sing ironically about their own brand of success on "Good Day." Palmer sings ironically when she sings "Go it's been a lovely day / Everything is going my way / I took out the trash today / And I'M ON FIRE / So you don't want to hear about my good friends? / You don't have the guts to take the truth or consequence / Success is in the eye of the beholder" ("Good Day"). The song sets up the listener for an experience that will be funny, angsty and undeniably original (especially with the first song ending with a singsong coda about Mussolini).
The Dresden Dolls is often-angry music and The Dresden Dolls has to be one of the top ten albums to kill yourself to in the goth or teen "life is so hard" crowd. After all, Palmer gives wonderful voice to the inane world that surrounds us. She presents the complexity of breakups with one of the ultimate blame songs when she longingly presents the lines "You're a bully and a clown / You made me cry and put me down / After all that I've been through / You'd think I'd hate the sight of you / But with every jeep I see / My broken heart skips a beat" ("The Jeep Song"). The Dresden Dolls is rich with righteous discontent.
In this case, originality goes a long way; The Dresden Doll's sound on The Dresden Dolls might be a bit monotonous, but it is different from anything else I've ever heard and it has been a long time since I could say that. As well, it is emotive in a very raw way and Palmer's alto voice carries passion throughout all of the songs. Even when it is not technically wonderful, The Dresden Dolls makes for a nice change of pace.
The best song is "Coin-Operated Boy," the low point is the unmemorable "672."
For other intriguing female artists, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen
South - Heather Nova
Wilderness - Sophie B. Hawkins
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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