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The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia Review

by Mark Hensch

Roughly two years ago I was fortunate enough to stumble across a very odd yet entertaining CD. It was the self-titled effort from a duo calling themselves the Dresden Dolls, and I quickly became fiercely enchanted by their unique combination of biting wit and cabaret piano balladeering. The Dresden Dolls was such a damn good album I even picked it as one of my top 5 for 2004 (despite its release in late 2003). After a couple years, would the dreaded sophomore slump heard the Dresden Dolls or would they continue to impress? Upon finally receiving this hotly anticipated follow-up, Yes, Virginia, I can safely say the Dolls are as raunchy and rousing as ever.

What initially drew me to the band was the fact lyrically, everything was fair game. Musically, elegant piano, minimal effects, and some slick jazz-influence drumming were pretty much it. It provides a unique sound, especially when pianist/lead vocalist Amanda Palmer plays a bombastic cabaret tune sounding like it came from 1942 yet rants and raves about everything from gender roles to drugs to sexual molestation to terrorism to lord knows what else. Basically, it was a perversion of the smokey club music of WWII Germany blended with the spirit of punk rock and a knack for pushing hot button topics.

Yes, Virginia continues in this tradition lyrically; I'm happy to report that both Palmer and accomplice-in-crime (plus drummer) Brian Viglione still like to step on toes so to speak. Musically, the disc has less cabaret leanings and more jazz, lounge, and outright pop to the piano keys. Personally, I liked their early Weirmarisms better, but by no means is Virginia any less interesting once you get used to it.

"Sex Changes" is a great start to this disc as it has a feel of poignancy that will instantly seem familiar to old fans. This sarcastic take on gender switching will shock many, and it sounds like tons of fun because of it. The military beats and gnashing vocals are all strong, and the song has a very pleasurable climax (pun intended, you dirty minded bastards!) that ends up leaving listeners breathless. The restrained and poppy "Backstabber" feels a bit de-clawed in comparison; this sounds much happier and poppier than older material, and the result is a bit jarring. Despite this, it is a catchy, smart, and well-crafted song so once you get used to it everything is all well anyways. "Modern Moonlight" is a blitzkrieg of keys and drums, flying by in an intoxicating blend of wailing melancholy and lacerating self-loathing; coming from these mime-paint wearing troubadours then, very solid stuff. The winding "Alcoholic Friends" is another new twist what with its smokey jazz undertones and playful jesting. The somber and resplendent "Deliah" is a fantastic, shimmering ode that slowly builds into a marvelous explosion of emotional fireworks. Bloody fantastic, and easily as good as songs in this vein they've done before. The sultry "Dirty Business" has such kickass key progressions it isn't even funny, and Palmer spits such vitriol here you can't help but notice a band whose star is destined to rise without any doubt. The tragicomic "First Orgasm" is without a doubt one of the most depressing songs ever written by this already dark, gloomy band, so I'll try not to spoil the verbal mutilation so all of you can enjoy it for yourselves.

"Mrs. O" is a re-recorded track of the band's first recording, a live demo entitled A is For Accident. Honestly, it doesn't sound too different here, but for people who haven't heard it before this is a splendid walk through twisted commentary and cynical poetic barbs. The surprisingly upbeat "Shores of California" tangos with powerful keys and sassy irony. The rollicking "Messessary Evil" is streamlined sing-alongs, a little too mainstream leaning for my tastes. The jazz meets sexual fury tryst of "Mandy Goes to Med School" is a dirty little number the band has had in them from day one, but never fully expanded into. The shoegazing depression of "Me & the Minibar" is a moody, quiet confessional about feeling down and alcohol. Nice! The equally elegant "Sing" is actually an acoustic guitar ballad, and a nice twist that fans of the Dresden Doll's live shows will recognize.

All-in-all, this is a worthy successor to the majesty of the original self-titled debut, just a very different. True to the clown-painted face of the band's soul, different hues and textures are always around to try out. Rather than grow stale, the band has kept the best elements of their older sound and added many variations via newer inspirations for an even fresher sound. Keep your eyes on this one folks.

Track Listing
1. Sex Changes
2. Backstabber
3. Modern Moonlight
4. Alcoholic Friends
5. Deliah
6. Dirty Business
7. First Orgasm
8. Mrs. O
9. Shores of California
10. Mecessary Evil
11. Mandy Goes to Med School
12. Me & The Minibar
13. Sing

CD Info and Links

The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia


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