New York Dolls and R.E.M. should tour together. Both groups have released albums this year that would be bearable, if the people leading them did not take it upon themselves to try to be as clever as possible, telling inane parables that nobody could or would ever want to understand. While David Johansen does not reach the comical lows that Michael Stipe entrenched himself in on R.E.M.’s Collapse Into Now, far too often on Dancing Backward in High Heels, the third reunion album New York Dolls have released, the man overreaches his tongue-and-cheek digs at nobility and sexuality into the realm of parody that other critics have described as similar to Johansen’s work as Buster Poindexter (“Feeling Hot Hot Hot.” Yeah, he was that guy). Except I wouldn’t say Johansen sounds like his late-80’s outlier. To me, he comes off as more of a Bender from Futurama-type character, one devoid of any sense of irony or scruples as to what you can or cannot safely put on a record. With little to anchor his wild ramblings, Johansen is on the wrong side of ridiculous when calling Mari Antoinette an “old baguette” on “Streetcake,” stealing the drums from “Lust For Life” on “Round and Round She Goes” and naming a song “Funky But Chic” (Think about it).
The good news is that Dancing is a lot more easy listening than Johansen would allow. The group sounds best when they tone their shtick down, recalling the playful sinfulness of their prime in “Talk To Me Baby” and forgivably ripping off the melody of “Temptation to Exist” from 2009’s ‘Cause I Sez So to make the album highlight “You Don’t Have To Cry.” While Dancing does not sully the image that the Dolls so well established with their first releases, they’re on the verge of turning their unique style into a caricature of itself, and it would be a shame to chalk up the aesthetic of one of the best punk bands of the 70’s as a fluke.