04 June, 2008

Album Review - The Dresden Dolls' "No, Virginia..."

Release Date: May 20, 2008
Label: Roadrunner Records
No. of Tracks: 11

Since their 2003 self-titled debut, The Dresden Dolls have been rock's most unique band. Composed of two extraordinarily talented members, pianist and vocalist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, this Boston-based group has been the spearhead and only commercially legitimate act of the dark cabaret movement. The band themselves narrow their style as being Brechtian punk cabaret. It never ceases to amaze me how complete their sound is despite only having two instruments. Of course, Amanda's outstanding husky voice has a lot to do with that. So do the very smart, insightful, and often disturbing lyrics. The final ingredient is the karmic connection that seems to exist between these two. I was introduced to them when they opened for Nine Inch Nails at the Tabernacle here in Atlanta in 2005, and they absolutely blew me and everyone around me away. Even with Trent and Co. waiting to come on stage, the crowd was futilely cheering for an encore.

No, Virginia... is the band's third studio album. It is composed of mostly B-sides that didn't make the cut for the two previous releases, but also contains a few new songs the band "feels very strongly about." The album is a bit brighter in its sound than the previous two as is clearly illustrated by their decision to record and include a cover of the Psychedelic Furs song "Pretty in Pink". OK, so lyrically the song fits with the band, and Amanda's delivery of it is somewhat sarcastic. But it is refreshing to hear that the band did conceive of songs like these even while they were releasing material of a comprehensively dark nature.

The release begins with the song "Dear Jenny", a "ballad" about a drug and sex abusing girl who has suffered the ultimate consequences of her vices and finds herself relegated to living at home under the watchful eye of her now protective father. "Night Reconnaissance" is the first single from the album and could easily fit into a Broadway show. "The Mouse and the Model" is simply outstanding in its opus-like quality. Clocking in at six minutes, the song features a guitar, a first for the group. A memorable line in both its meaning and delivery is "It's dark here on the flip side of reason/The teaser could be something easy like they did it in a book/You're a crook, you're a fake, you committed/If you did it say you did it/If you didn't suck it up and say you did." "Ultima Esperanza" follows and is also a beautifully upbeat musical offering. The lyrics about a limbless beauty queen are another story, but that is the dichotomy of this group. "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner", besides winning the award for best song title of the year, is a much more familiar Dresden Dolls offering. The song details the obviously disturbing relationship between a pupil and teacher. It is on songs like these that Amanda really shines on vocals, capturing melody, emotion, and psychosis all at once. This is also the most challenging song as it does have brief moments of humour, believe it or not. You feel guilty for laughing, but it is what it is. "The Kill" is a thunderingly emotional love song rife with double entendres and powerful hooks. The album closes with a genuine tearjerker titled "Boston". The song is about two notoriously promiscuous and uncommitted people who have fallen into a year long relationship that was always scheduled to end at a set point. The setting is that final night together. I think the final line sums it all up pretty well: "There is nothing in the world that we can count on/Even that we will wake up is an assumption/But I know for a fact that I loved someone/And for about a year he lived in Boston."

I cannot end before showing some love for Brian Viglione. There are good drummers, and then there are drum god extraordinaires. Mr. Viglione deserves a spot on the latter list list right after Danny Carey of Tool and alongside Matt Tong of Bloc Party. He even has a very well-defined philisophy behind his art that he details in a radio interview with WHRB in Boston. If you are interested in listening, go to http://www.dresdendolls.com/downloads_n_lyrics/index.htm and scroll down to the section titled "Brian Viglione Drum Workshop Interview on WHRB". Sections include "The Potential of the Drum Kit", "Paying Attention to the Moment", and "Playing Beyond Your Perceived Limits".

While this may be a B-sides collection rather than a traditional studio album, it is still a worthy selection for listening and even threatens to top it's A-side sister album. And I will again repeat that both musicians are masters of their crafts. If you can't listen to and appreciate The Dresden Dolls, you probably shouldn't be listening to inde rock period. This album especially captures the most important tenants of what indie rock has come to mean: an art form rather than entertainment, poetic lyrics, empowerment out of despair, and a willingness to radically experiment with what rock music can be.

Essential Tracks: "The Mouse and the Model", "Ultima Esperanza", "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner", "The Kill", "Boston"

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 4.0

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