Maija Gustin | Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The Dresden Dolls are a bit of an acquired taste. The Boston duo, auteurs of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” movement (a title they coined to avoid being labeled “goth”), is known for heavy pianos and drums. This musical style places the Dresden Dolls within the greater musical movement of “dark cabaret” that gained steam in the early 1990s. But while slightly unconventional, and not to the liking of all, the Dresden Dolls are nothing short of addictive. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione can rock out on upbeat tunes like “Bad Habit,” or chill to the likes of “Sing.” But, regardless of type, Palmer and Viglione infuse every song with passion, energy and a little Hamlet-esque antic disposition.
The Dresden Dolls formed back in 2000 when Viglione saw Palmer perform a solo act at a Halloween concert. The two soon gained a massive following for their live performances, which typically feature intense makeup, crazy costumes and occasional fan performances. Their concerts become more of a theatrical performance than just a concert. The spectacle, though, never overpowers the music. In fact, Palmer and Viglione seem to revel in it.
They recorded an early live album in 2001 titled “The Dresden Dolls,” which was later re-released in 2003 as a full studio album. Highlights of this album include “Girl Anachronism,” one of the Dresden Dolls’ biggest hits. The song is a high-pulse rumination on being a problem child, among other things. “Missed Me” takes things in the opposite direction, as a slower, but no less intense, ode to relationships. “Bad Habit” is a perfect example of the heavy pianos the Dresden Dolls are so noted for. “Half Jack,” “Gravity” and “Perfect Fit” are some other great songs that round out the Dresden Dolls’ excellent first release.
Also in 2003, the Dresden Dolls released “A is for Accident,” an EP of live performances. The album features both live versions of songs from “The Dresden Dolls,” like “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Missed Me,” along with new songs like “The Time Has Come” and “Bank of Boston Beauty Queen.”
Their second and most recent studio album, “Yes, Virginia …” was released in 2006 and reached No. 42 on the U.S. music charts. In it, the Dresden Dolls retain everything that made them famous in the first place. It opens with manic stunner “Sex Changes” and carries on strong throughout the rest of the album. “Backstabber” is another born classic, albeit a little softer in tone than some of their earlier work. Also check out “Dirty Business,” another upbeat song, and the great “Me & the Minibar.” The Dresden Dolls close out “Yes, Virginia …” with one of their most beautiful songs, “Sing.”
Two years later, the band released a companion album called “No, Virginia …” The album features tracks left over from “Yes, Virginia …” as well as some b-sides. However, this album features some of their finest work, opening with the great “Dear Jenny.” What follows is a collection of excellent material that was thankfully released, rather than being left behind on some recording studio shelf. “Night Reconnaissance” amply displays their musical versatility, while “Mouse and the Model” is one of their finest songs to date. Other notable songs include “The Kill” and “Ultima Esperanza.”
Unfortunately, the Dresden Dolls have been on hiatus since then, although both Palmer and Viglione deny any bad feelings between the two. Hopefully, this hiatus will come to an end in the near future so they can start wowing fans once again with their music. Until then, and for extra credit listening, check out some of Palmer’s solo work on “Who Killed Amanda Palmer,” most notably “Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing),” “Ampersand” and “Leeds United.” For now, though, listen up and cross your fingers for the return of a great American musical (and performance) outfit.