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I was really apprehensive about hearing the new Dresden Dolls album, fearing that this dynamic duo might hit a sophomore slump. Their self-titled debut was such an amazing album, I was afraid that any followup would pale in comparison.
It turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
Their sound has changed just a bit. There is no "Coin-Operated Boy" on this album. There's no "Girl Anachronism". This album is really not the same as their last, but it's not so drastic a change that it will alienate their hardcore fans, either. Yes, Virginia picks up where the last album left off.
Don't fret, though - their old sound isn't gone. The Dolls have held onto elements of the punk cabaret. Some of their songs are in the stylings you're used to. These include "My Alcoholic Friends" and "Mandy Goes To Med School", a darkly comic song about back alley abortion clinics.
But the duo has expanded their sound on some of the songs, or contracted it, rather. They've stripped down some tunes, like "Backstabber" and "Dirty Business", which are rock songs in a style we're not used to hearing from the Dolls, but they still showcase the percussive talents of Palmer and Viglione in a simpler, yet no less effective style. - Ryan Cooper
Their earlier pop hit, “Coin Operated Boy”, is a snappy, poppy, and whimsical tune that is very enjoyable for all of its references and wonderfully pleasing music not like any normality that you’ve grown accustomed to. With the release of their latest album, Yes, Virginia, a title based on an actual 1897 newspaper response to a young 8-year old girl, whose wavering faith in Santa Claus was caused by classmates that have lost their innocence, The Dresden Dolls seek to address the classic complications that arise from a loss of oneness that we share while young but lose after a time to become the complicated detachments that we call individuality.
The Dresden Dolls, by and large, is a duo that bring Amanda Palmer’s uniquely delivered vocals and expert cabaret piano together with bandmate Brian Viglione’s percussion, drums, guitar, and bass to make an album that is as unique as it is satisfying.
Yes, Virginia begins with clever tongue-in-cheek play on words (“…we’ll need to chop your clock off – tick tock tick tock…” and “there is no money back once you’ve been ripped off”) as it investigates a sex change in “Sex Change”. I told you that they entertain. “Modern Moonlight” looks at an increasing world of control of unreturned loyalties from consumers that gets more and more cutthroat as the money stakes gets higher (“…and they merger, and they merger, and they murder and they murder, and the one who murders most will take it all…”). They sit very close to “Coin Operated Boy” (for those already familiar with the tune…if not, search it out) with “My Alcoholic Friends”, a fun and delightful romp. There are 9 more tracks to help you blur the lines between rock and the shadows of a seemingly lost genre of music, the cabaret. And The Dresden Dolls so that magnificently.
In an effort to contribute to the artistic quality that the cabaret enhanced and the style of music that The Dresden Dolls embraces, their included booklet yields most of its real estate to decadent and industrialized artwork from fans. The purpose is to join forces with the fans, incorporating the return of that needed “oneness”. The artworks found in the booklet are culled from over 600 submissions from fans to help express the visual aspects of the music found within Yes, Virginia.
The Dresden Dolls are just the type of refreshing band that helps us to embrace originality and experimentation without clinging to tried and true formulas of so many bands. We’ve certainly had our fill of that. If you’re a fan of music and can stretch out your musical tastes, The Dresden Dolls will easily have you coming back for more while challenging your musical appreciation and respects.
It is already on my list of favourites for 2006. And helping to direct your attention to interesting music like The Dresden Dolls is my job. - Matt Rowe
The debut album was rife with musical references to pre-World War II German cabaret music (composers Weill and Bertolt Brecht, as well as the Dadaist movement are massive influences on Palmer), but while that sound has not been completely abandoned, it has been toned down a touch on Yes, Virginia…. Recorded under the tutelage of the well-known Boston producing tandem of Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, the new album is simpler, with a more minimal approach to the instrumentation, but at the same time possesses a streamlined, polished sound that makes for a much more accessible, mainstream-friendly record. Devoted fans shouldn’t quite start up with their declarations of “J’accuse!” quite yet, because while the first album was more adventurous, Virginia‘s newfound focus suits the Dresden Dolls to a tee.
To no one’s surprise, the subject matter on Yes, Virginia… is as provocative as ever, but unlike, say, a Nellie McKay (whose music can be charming one minute and condescending the next), there’s a sincerity prevalent in all of Palmer’s vivid character sketches, made more evident by the more subtle approach to her singing, which tended to get a touch overwrought on the debut. “Sex Changes” isn’t far removed from the sound of the debut, with Palmer exploring the sexual identity theme while Viglione provides taut, punchy drum fills that are bolstered by the more muscular production. Palmer’s vocal phrasing starts to resemble that of Aimee Mann on the rollicking “Dirty Business”, singing wryly of “the kind of girl who leaves out condoms on the dresser / Just to make you jealous of the men she fucked before you met her”, while “Delilah” paints a compassionate, yet frustrated portrait of an abusive relationship ("You thought you could change the world by opening your legs… try kicking them instead"). In less capable hands, “First Orgasm” might have rung hollow, but the sense of loneliness Palmer depicts is more startling than the subject matter ("A lover would just complicate my plans"), a theme that arises later on in the equally forlorn torch tune “Me & the Minibar” ("I was so excited to do such normal things with you / When you left last night with your toothbrush dry").
If there’s one aspect of the debut that the new album lacks, it’s the kind of bold songs that continue where the clever “The Jeep Song” left off, but while a successful follow-up to such a brilliant evocation of ‘60s girl groups is a tall order, there are enough memorable, hook-filled songs on Yes, Virginia… to offset its more dramatic pieces. The vicious lyrics of “Backstabber” are underscored by a lovely piano/drums combo that will have sullen pubescent girls rallying around the “Shit brother! Off-brusher!” chorus, while the battle-between-the-sexes drama of “Shores of California” is matched by a melody as effervescent as its title would indicate. The clear winner, though, is the album-closing “Sing”. A sleeper hit in the making, Palmer unapologetically goes for a people-pleasing ballad, complete with sentiment that could be cynically described as corny, and pulls it off beautifully. “Life is no cabaret”, sings Palmer, stripping away the duo’s seemingly ironic front to show the genuineness lurking beneath, and daring us to accept it. You might not want to sing at first, but Palmer and Viglione are going to keep on playing until you do. As Palmer sings, “You motherfuckers will sing someday”. - Adrien Begrand