Album review: New York Dolls’ ‘Dancing Backward in High Heels’

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Could there be a more fitting image and cultural icon for New York’s great glam-punk band to invoke than Ginger Rogers? Borrowing the dancer’s famous line about her challenges with partner Fred Astaire for the title to their fifth studio album, surviving original members David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain relish their equally contrarian role in rock ’n’ roll, an idiosyncratic perspective that shows no signs of mellowing nearly 40 years into their careers.

The man of seemingly a thousand alter egos — including bawdy-yet-urbane uptown bandleader Buster Poindexter and grizzled old bluesman — Johansen weaves elements of his catholic musical tastes in with the brash Bowery-bred punk that’s always been the heart of the Dolls’ music.

“I’m So Fabulous” is an insistent rocker that’s one long string of delightfully self-aggrandizing boasts and put-downs: “I’m so fabulous/You’re the exodus … I’m so fabulous it’s egregious.”

Johanson becomes the old R&B-blues seducer on the prowl in “Streetcake,” pulling every double entendre he can find from the recesses of his bag of come-ons, and never too modest to name check his own legendary self: “Let me be your streetcake/Till your breadman come.... I’m so sweet like the New York Dolls, mellow like a cello like Pablo Casals.”


Four years after being formally resurrected following the death of bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane — his tale so poignantly told in the 2005 documentary “New York Doll” — the band waltzes on, gliding from horny to philosophical, heartbroken to disco-ready as effortlessly as that classy dancing blond, neither suggesting the slightest need for a rear-view mirror.

—Randy Lewis

New York Dolls
“Dancing Backward in High Heels”
429 Records
Three stars (Out of four)