Welcome back, king and queen of punk cabaret. We missed you and your weird, wild little songs.
Thankfully the Dresden Dolls haven't lost any of their Brechtian flavour or wild devilish energy since their second album "Yes Virginia." And though "No Virginia" is not really an album proper -- it's a string of B-sides, odds and ends -- it's a deliciously dark cacophony of piano, psychiatric catastrophes and sharp drums. It's a bit smoother and less punky than their past work, but still what you'd expect from the Dolls.
Stabs of piano and drums punctuate Amanda Palmer's singing, as she announces, "Ashley talks to astronauts back home by way of fax transmission... weary, oh so drearily we wave our flags into the camera/Amber goes berserk completely, she's been here since last December."
The melody becomes subtler and darker as she announces, "Sometimes they let strangers in and other times they check the records!/When they check out in the morning dad puts out the lie detectors..." That one's about a psychiatric hospital, ya know. Think of it as a sequel to the gloriously mad "Girl Anachronism," but with more dramatic music and a slower beat. And, of course, the girl anachronism is now in a ward with self-harmers, flashers and imaginary astronauts.
And it's followed by the music-hall darkness of "Night Reconnaissance," a wildly weird song about lawn ornaments and social outcasts. But the Dresden Dolls prove that they can do more than that -- hauntingly angular pop music, cascading piano-rockers, weird experimental tunes, mellotron-saturated melodies, and of course the cabaret-flavoured punk music. It ends with the yearning, desperate drama of "Boston," which is all about travel, sex and "forty-five minutes every day religiously devoted to regret."
A lot of these songs have been floating around in one form or another for awhile, whether in compilations, covers, unrecorded music, or B-sides from their wonderful second album. Well, it only really shows in a few places like in the suggestive "Gardener," which is way too whispery and purry to really fit in with the more dramatic and/or bombastic pop.
In fact, the only real problem with "No Virginia..." is that many of these songs rely more on smooth dark cabaret than on punk. Other than that, it's pretty much solid Dolls material -- most of the music rides on the piano, whether it's thumping, rippling, sparkling, smashing or reverberating in the silence. And it's draped in plenty of sharp angular drums and some powerful punky guitars. And in the more experimental songs like "Gardener," the S&M-flavoured lyrics are softened with mellotron and a hint of accordion.
Amanda Palmer's throaty, muscular voice winds through these songs like a gleeful temptress. She happily sings of exaggerations ("I am an amazon/an ampersand/an accident"), outsiders, last hopes, S&M, mental illness, sexy piano teachers, and "alcohol and chemicals." And the lyrics don't hurt -- they drip hints and subtext, but not in such a way that it ruins the fun moments -- and Palmer sings them with her tongue in cheek, and a little shred of longing.
"No Virginia" can be seen as a companion piece to the wonderful "Yes Virginia," but taken on its own merits it's a delightfully dark little trip into the darkened houses and wild nights of the Dresden Dolls.